BATON ROUGE, La. – La Capitol FCU considers itself one of the lucky few. Not only were two of three branches of the $272 million CU that were initially closed because of Katrina able to be up and running shortly after the storm, but the credit union now finds itself in the position of helping thousands of hurricane victims who are coming to the credit union for financial transactions. The area around the Baton Rouge-based CU located about 70 miles northwest of New Orleans suffered mostly wind damage including downed trees and power lines. Katrina initially closed three of La Capitol's 12 branches in Louisiana – Hammond, Houma and New Orleans – but CU spokesperson Leo O'Donnell said Hammond and Houma were up and running by the end of the week. As for La Capital's branch in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, O'Donnell said that facility suffered "extensive" damage to the roof and water damage inside. "Fortunately we had the facility built on top of the parking spaces, so none of the water damage inside was caused by flooding but mostly by the roof damage," he said. "As soon as power comes back on we suspect the ATM will be operating even if we're not actually working there." Operations Supervisor Bert Callender said the CU "plans to patch the roof the best we can and open the branch as soon as we are allowed back into the area." Meanwhile, since all of La Capitol's branches are Credit Union Service Center outlets, that puts the CU in the unique position to help displaced members from other CUs around the state. In addition, since La Capitol has branches throughout Louisiana, that means the estimated 30% of its own members who were displaced by Katrina, can conduct their business at branches in other areas of the state. According to La Capitol FCU President/CEO Susan Leake, the credit union has computers set up in its lobbies to allow hurricane victims access to the Internet, and the CU's also made phones available for them to use. O'Donnell said traffic at all the CU's branches has been very busy and "our lobbies are always full." Estimates are that for the first two weeks after the storm, six out of 10 people through the CU's lobby were guest members. Not surprisingly, members' number one concern has been trying to access their money and making sure their direct deposits are made into their credit union accounts. The CU has worked with members whose direct deposits were unavailable because of the storm by crediting their accounts in advance of funds being received. In one example of the assistance La Capitol is offering CUs affected by Katrina, Jefferson Parish Employees FCU has established a temporary office in the Baton Rouge headquarters of La Capitol. All four branches of JPEFCU are in the affected areas and have been closed since Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29. Members of JPEFCU are currently able to use the Credit Union Service Center network and ATMs, and employees are able to post payrolls and take member calls using the facilities provided by La Capitol. Katrina also affected the ability of the Louisiana Technical College System and Delgado University, two of La Capitol's employee groups, to provide direct deposits to employees. The credit union is helping members by picking up paper checks at the College headquarters and depositing them to the member's account. Leake said she was extremely proud of La Capitol's staff. Many of them, she said, have taken evacuees into their home, they're collecting for victims, and have volunteered to work overtime including on Saturday. -


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