Chase branches struggle with Sandy's aftermath

Wed Oct 31, 2012 12:26am EDT

The entrance to JPMorgan Chase's international headquarters on Park Avenue is seen in New York October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The entrance to JPMorgan Chase's international headquarters on Park Avenue is seen in New York October 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) - Sandy could be the toughest challenge yet for the man who fixes JPMorgan Chase & Co's (JPM.N) bank branches after hurricanes.

The bank has more branches in and around New York than in other areas like Florida that are more commonly hit by hurricanes. And, with the city's subways damaged, getting employees around will be tough, said Emmett Vollenweider, a native of Louisiana who worked through the damage left by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Irene, among others.

The bank prepared for the storm days ago by restocking 3,200 automated teller machines in the region with currency.

"If there are large power outages, cash is king," Vollenweider said.

While some of the 1,050 Chase branches in the area were open over the weekend, all were closed on Tuesday after super-storm Sandy slammed the region with hurricane-force winds on Monday, bringing flooding that crippled New York's subway system and closed financial markets for two days.

Chase's initial goal is to reopen 100 or so branches that the bank previously identified as hub locations that can be reached by the greatest numbers of customers, even if not as conveniently as before the storm. These locations must also be within reach of enough employees to staff them.

The company has lined up 150 generators and diesel fuel to power the branches, plus extra security guards to handle crowds that may form when branches reopen.

The bank has hundreds of people out inspecting buildings and hundreds more trying to reach employees to learn who will be able to get to work, Vollenweider said

Executives at other major banks face similar tasks. Officials at Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) said 770 of their stores in mid-Atlantic and northeastern states were closed.

Citigroup Inc (C.N) had about 400 branches in the path of the storm. All in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were closed Tuesday. The bank aimed to reopen branches in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts in the afternoon.

Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), without giving numbers, said it had closed branches in and around New York City, Washington, and other banking centers in states including Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Chase's closed branches in the New York region account for about 20 percent of the bank's 5,600 branches across the United States.

"This is the largest event we have ever dealt with," Vollenweider said.

(Reporting by David Henry in New York and Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; editing by Prudence Crowther)

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