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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In much the same way other hurricanes have acted in 2005, Hurricane Wilma came ashore stronger than most forecasters had said it would and left behind more damage than many expected. So far the $42 million Sun FCU, headquartered in Hollywood, Florida, has reported the heaviest damage, losing its headquarters entirely. The other 21 credit unions which the Florida Credit Union League was able to contact as of press time reported widespread power outages but not much building damage. Other credit unions which may have had more damage may not have been able to check in yet. The storm came ashore in Florida at a place called Cape Romano, a little bit southwest of Naples, Florida, in the early morning hours of Oct. 24. Overall damage reports put the storm damage, as of press time, at between $6 and $10 billion. If it comes in at $10 billion or higher, Wilma will be the third most destructive storm in U.S. history, behind only Katrina this year and Andrew in 1992. The storm has been blamed for five deaths. Only five credit union offices, three small CUs and two branch offices of the $4.8 billion Suncoast Schools FCU, were in the direct path of Hurricane Wilma when the storm came ashore, according to the Florida Credit Union League. The three are the $1.8 million City of Naples FCU, which has its offices in the Naples City Hall; the $420,000 Lee County Mosquito Control CU, which also has its offices in its sponsor’s space; and the $4.7 million Lee County Postal Employees CU which has its offices in the post office. The two Suncoast branches are in located in Fort Myers and Naples, the League said. Florida League spokesman Mark Ivester said the League has sent eight satellite phones to the southern part of the state and activated its communications plan in case it is needed but added that after eight named storms in 15 months much of the preparation for storms had become routine. But there are plenty of signs Wilma was not a routine storm. According to media reports, severe damage is widespread up and down Florida’s heavily populated southeastern communities, with many high-rise buildings losing all their windows and some large buildings flattened. Perhaps the most damage has been done to the region’s power grid, which lost several miles of main transmission lines, according to media reports. People in some areas have been warned that they may not have their power restored for as much as a month. And, as in the wake of Katrina, that power loss has brought about a dramatic impact on communications. The League has not been able to connect with many CU staff and staff have not been able to connect with one another. Ivester reported that the League has advocated CUs having backup generators for several years but said that the large generators are often beyond the reach of smaller CUs and can be difficult to keep fueled. [email protected]

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