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WASHINGTON-CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica and new Disaster Recovery and Preparedness Director Scott Earl were awed by the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita during their recent visit to Louisiana. But the credit union spirit could not be stronger, they added. For the Gulf States, Mica commented, “There’s no more urgent disaster than what we’re facing right now.” CUNA had always had an ad hoc disaster recovery group in place but they were overwhelmed by how much aid was needed in the Gulf region-on top of their regular jobs. “This one was a lesson for everybody,” Mica said. He told Credit Union Times that he had spoken with the director of the Red Cross who told him that this relief effort was greater than all four hurricanes that hit Florida last year combined. Enter Earl. Just days into the job, the southern part of Florida was struck by Hurricane Wilma, interrupting service at a number of credit unions, as well as operations at Credit Union Times’ West Palm Beach headquarters. On the bright side, Mica remarked, at least “Florida is not a flood plain.” The water will run out, unlike New Orleans’ bowl. “I’m excited to help credit unions get the resources together to rebuild,” Earl said. He explained that his knowledge of the credit union industry would be very valuable to his new position. “I’m in a pretty good position to interface with the leagues and right now, if we’re going to get anything done, it’s going to be through the leagues,” Earl stated. He said that the Florida Credit Union League already had satellite phones in place at some credit unions before Wilma struck and planned to make a generator run the day after she pummeled much of Florida. The FCUL ran a list of impacted credit unions on its Web site (http://www.fcul.org/wilma_ status_report.htm) but noted that, as of last Tuesday, this only represented about half of the credit unions that could have been affected. But, even as Wilma wrought havoc on Florida, recovery in the Gulf states remained “a fluid situation,” Earl said. The National Credit Union Foundation has received $2 million in pledges, according to Mica. CUNA and the Foundation recently learned the important distinction between pledges and contributions. They had originally been referring to the funds as contributions and when credit unions came looking for money to help with recovery, they quickly learned their mistake. CUNA’s executive committee met and voted to extend a $1 million line of credit to the NCUF to move the money faster to where it was needed. The other lesson that came out of this was that some credit unions were sensitive to the name given the `Adopt-A-Credit Union’ program. One CEO told Mica they appreciated the help, but `we’re not orphans.’ CUNA’s chief said they would look into changing the name. One thing CUNA will not do is go back to business as usual once the media coverage of the storms has died down. Mica said credit unions have implored him, “Don’t let this be on the front page.don’t do this and walk away when you move on to other things.” CUNA attempted to put those fears to rest by hiring Earl on a contract basis through the end of 2006. CUNA Mutual and CUNA are funding the position. “One thing we have to make clear is there are still needs developing,” he insisted. Recovery will take months if not years. “Seeing how widespread it was was pretty sobering,” he said. Earl’s first taste of the situation was flying into a deserted airport. Flights were scarce. Even before the two left for Louisiana, getting hotel rooms was an issue because housing is so tight right now in the area. Credit union officials in the area offered up space in their homes for the CUNA officials to stay if necessary. Then touring Louisiana, grungy marks seven to eight feet high lined where the water had risen to, Earl said. One of credit unions Mica and Earl visited with was Tulane University Credit Union. The staff was not able to get into their office for four or five weeks but were sifting through the grime and mildew and hoped to be able to be back in the space by Jan. 1. Mica said news reports of the reopening of the French Quarter were dangerous because that was really one of the least damaged areas. Mica said they drove “for miles and miles and miles outside of New Orleans” with nothing but devastation on either side. One thing that struck him was all the new cars sitting in the dealership lots completely destroyed. “As you know, auto loans are a large part of the credit union portfolio,” Mica noted. He cited a report that 340,000 cars were abandoned in New Orleans alone. Many were being stacked up and used as roadblocks to keep people out of certain areas. Another issue that credit unions down there cannot control is whether their membership returns to the area. That goes for credit union employees too. “Most of these folks are either living with friends or families and in RVs,” Earl said. He commended the league staff for their efforts. Another credit union they visited had staffers sleeping in cots in an upstairs office. “The spirit of the credit union folks was just beyond belief.They were absolutely committed to getting back to serving their members,” Mica said. Though Earl is still getting a feel for his new post and responsibilities, he said he plans to address various emergency scenarios, “from earthquakes to fires.” As far as the task at hand, Earl said recovery is still very much in the assessment stage. [email protected]

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