By Ray Birch
DANNEBROG, Neb.—Dan Poppe said the threat to his credit union’s office here was immediate, as floodwaters quickly reached a depth of five feet rushing down the main street last week.
Dannebrog, a tiny town of less than 500 residents, is where the $69-million Archer Credit Union has one of its three locations. Poppe, CEO of the credit union, said Archer’s two other offices in Archer and Central City, Neb., escaped serious damage from flooding that has caused more than $1 billion of flood damage in Nebraska so far. At least three people have been killed in Nebraska and Iowa, after heavy rainfall and rapid snowmelt caused catastrophic flooding across the Missouri River Basin. Three-fourths of Nebraska's 93 counties have declared an emergency.
“Dannebrog was by far hit the hardest with the substantial rain on frozen ground resulting in an unbelievable amount of water runoff. Within a few hours, the main street of Dannebrog was overflowing due to a combination of storm sewer backup and the Oak Creek running over its banks,” Poppe said. “At its peak, the main street had over five feet of water.”
Volunteers did their best, sandbagging to keep out surface water, but there was no stopping the storm sewer waters, said Poppe.
“Our credit union location is right on the main street (Mill Street), so we had substantial damage. The basement was completely full up to the flooring with seven feet of water. The lower level had around 18 inches of water, but a mezzanine level that is a couple of feet higher escaped by a small margin.”
The CU immediately shut down the location.
“Our four employees there had nowhere to work out of. But the staff are very involved in the community, and they immediately got to work not just cleaning up our office but the entire community,” Poppe said. “We already had a policy in place to continue to pay anyone impacted by a closed location, but nothing could prepare them for the emotional hardship of seeing an entire community under stress. So we are very proud of our staff for what they are doing.”
Volunteers Step Up
Regarding branch operations in Dannebrog, which is known as the Danish capital of Nebraska and which is named for the Danish flag, a volunteer group arrived the day after the floodwaters hit and pumped out the CU’s basement.
“Staff and volunteers removed all furniture to be hauled away, and a crew came in to pull up all flooring and cut out sheetrock. A contractor verified the building footings were solid. An electrician has already partially restored power, and we hope to have a heating system in place within a couple of days,” Poppe told CUToday.info Friday. “The ATM is being checked, but we are fairly certain it is inoperable. But we already had a replacement on order for an upgrade.”
Friday morning Poppe said the branch planned to open for two hours to handle teller transactions.
“Then, we’ll see what we need to do with the rest of the building,” said Poppe. “Until then, we set up staff with a laptop and printer in the village command center, located in the common area of a low-income housing facility.”
Emergency Assistance Offered
Poppe said the credit union held an emergency board meeting and added a flood disaster loan product offering 2% loans up to $5,000 with no payments for 90 days so members can have immediate cash.
“We are able to handle all of that with the laptop so folks don’t have to drive to another location,” he said. “Staff and volunteers were also there yesterday with pizza and helping hands to see what else was needed. The community is strong, and our work family is tremendous. So I know the location will pull through. But recovery will take a long time.”
Poppe added the CU’s Archer location so far has escaped damage.
“There is flooding, but it has not reached our building. But one of the staff there lives in Dannebrog, so we had to do some shifting,” he said, adding the employee “lost quite a bit. In addition, another staff member lives in Fullerton, which was also damaged and had road closures. So her 21-mile commute turned into 57 miles as she gets around the water.”
People Are Biggest Issue
Poppe said the credit union’s Central City office remains dry.
“So our primary issue is staffing,” he said.
Overall, Poppe said he can’t emphasize enough the strength of the credit union’s team and how well they have pulled together.
“This put our disaster recovery plan into action, but it’s our people that really make the difference. So we are very blessed to have avoided any serious injuries and are hoping that nothing further comes along,” Poppe said.
Archer Credit Union isn’t alone. Cobalt CU, headquartered in Council Bluff, Iowa, has members and staff at the Offutt Air Force Base, which is heavily flooded (see photo).
Despite the extensive flooding, Cobalt CU Chief Communications Officer Sharon Stahr said the credit union’s three offices on the base were only temporarily down.
“We were down one-half day at our branch in the Stratcom building, as there was some flooding in their communications room,” explained Stahr. “We are now open for business with all three on-base branches. We lost one ATM at the Bennie Davis maintenance facility, as it was under water.”
Stahr said Cobalt is offering a disaster relief and assistance program to its members affected by the floods. Depending on the member’s situation, relief could include payment deferrals, loan modifications, payment reductions and more, said Stahr.
“We are very fortunate that we sustained minimal losses,” Stahr said. “I wish I could say the same for many of our members and the rest of our community. It will take months for some to see any resemblance of normal life. Fortunately, we have very giving communities in Nebraska.”
In Columbus, Neb., the town is surrounded by floodwaters, the Nebraska CU League reported, noting it has concerns for credit unions in that city.
Help from National CU Foundation
In response to the flooding in Nebraska and across the Midwest, the National Credit Union Foundation is distributing funds to the Nebraska Credit Union League through the CUAid General Disaster Relief Fund to assist those credit union people affected.
“When disaster strikes, the first thing we do is call our league and state credit union foundation partners to see how we can help,” noted Gigi Hyland, Foundation executive director. “Thanks to the collective generosity of the credit union movement throughout the year towards the CUAid General Disaster Relief Fund, the Foundation can respond immediately to the needs of those credit union employees and volunteers affected by the flooding.”
The disaster relief funds will be distributed to the Nebraska Credit Union League who will be working with their credit unions to access the needs of those affected, The Foundation said.
Donations Being Accepted
“Credit unions have continued to step-up in the wake of disasters and showcase their cooperative spirit and ‘people helping people’ philosophy,” said Nebraska Credit Union League President and CEO Scott Sullivan. “Because of that, we can quickly distribute funds to those who need it most. Thank you to all those who have contributed to CUAid and made this possible.”
Donations can be made to the General Relief Fund through cuaid.coop.