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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – When officials ordered New Orleans evacuated as Hurricane Katrina approached, Connie Kennelly didn’t hesitate. Kennelly, CEO of Tulane-Loyola Federal Credit Union, was participating in new student orientation Saturday morning at Tulane University, two days before Katrina made landfall. Between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. the university began advising students to leave with their parents. Both Tulane and Loyola University bused those who lacked transportation to Jackson, Miss. “My husband and I – and our dog, of course – left probably about 4 or 4:30 p.m.,” Kennelly recalls. We came to a mid-point in Florida that night, then the next day we went on to my son’s house in Jacksonville.” Later they moved to Panama City Beach in the Florida Panhandle, where her husband’s uncle owns a home. He also has a house in Birmingham, Ala., and has turned his Florida home over to relatives displaced by Katrina. Although Kennelly is no longer commuting in each day to the office, her cellphone and the landline keep ringing with calls from members. She also fields a steady stream of e-mail. Members are scattered to states as far as Kansas, Michigan and New York. “Most people figured wherever they went it would be for two or three days, not a month,” Kennelly says. While newspaper and television accounts were packed with stories of people who refused to flee, Kennelly – a Louisiana native who has seen her share of hurricanes – says there was never any doubt in her mind she should leave. “We evacuated last year for Ivan, even though it ultimately didn’t hit. It took us 27 hours to get to Dallas, which is ordinarily an eight-hour drive. This year the highways weren’t bad. We had to slow down before the bridge between New Orleans and Slidell that is now out. It might have taken about an hour to get over that bridge,” she says. “Because we were leaving early enough, it was not a problem. A couple of our children, who are now adults, left early the next morning. It took them six or seven hours to get across that same bridge.” Her entire staff also left, many seeking shelter with friends and relatives. TLFCU employees are now located in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee and all over. “I at least know where everybody is,” Kennelly says. Leaving turned out to be a good call. The credit union headquarters were on the ground floor of a Canal Street building which was flooded. The only preparations the staff could make before they left was to move the computers as high as possible in each office. Reports indicate the branch on the Loyola campus and on Hampson Street were not flooded, but still lack electricity. Fortunately, TLFCU has offsite computer backup with a firm in Birmingham, Ala., and is a member of Service Centers. “That has been a Godsend,” Kennelly says. “Members are able to access their accounts” There was also good news concerning Kennelly’s home on the West Bank, which suffered no flood damage. The roof may have been harmed, “but nothing serious,” Kennelly says. “I live right near a shopping center looters got into and burned down, and I was afraid something like that might have happened to the house. But it’s fine.” As soon as electricity and sewer service are restored, Kennelly hopes to establish at least skeleton administrative operation at the Hampton Street location. Her best guess is that may happen in 10 days or so, and she’ll be back in her home before that. TLFCU expects to defer member loan payments for at least a month, probably two or three. Tulane has set up business in Houston and announced it will pay employees through September. Loyola indicated it will meet its payroll through the end of December, and both universities expect to resume class for the spring 2006 semester. “I expect the universities will survive, but from reports I’ve seen on television the Tulane hospital will not be able to reopen in its current location. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to those people. That’s a pretty broad segment of our membership,” Kennelly says. -

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