It took only a day for more than 20 inches of rain to flood Juan and Rhina Aguirre’s home of 21 years.
“The house was a total loss as four feet of contaminated water got inside and ruined everything,” Rhina Aguirre said. “We have had floods before but the water had never reached us since we are on higher ground. But this time it not only flooded our home but my son’s too, and he lives 50 minutes away.
“I haven’t been the same since,” she said. “Now every time it starts to rain, I think the flooding is going to start all over again.”
When floods ravaged 20 Louisiana parishes in August, 13 people died and an estimated 146,000 homes and other structures were damaged or destroyed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
If there was a silver lining, it is this: the Aguirres weren’t left in financial limbo and were able to take the first steps in the rebuilding process right away.
The couple was among more than 1,000 local residents who visited Wells Fargo Home Lending’s Mobile Response Unit — a mortgage office on wheels dispatched to Louisiana to help flood victims quickly process loan payoffs and other paperwork necessary to repair or rebuild their homes.
While on board, the couple met Jesse Machuca, a loan administration manager who had traveled from his home in San Bernardino, California, to join 27 other volunteers from Charlotte, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; San Antonio, and other Home Lending locations to help with relief efforts. The unit augmented the work of Louisiana team members at mortgage offices in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, serving more than 2,000 customers.
“Experiences like these only solidify my pride at working for a company that goes out to meet and help customers where they are,” Machuca said.
He quickly helped the couple get the necessary endorsements required to get a mortgage payoff check from their insurance company and start rebuilding.
“They were relieved to find someone who not only spoke Spanish,” Machuca said, “but who also understood the insurance claim and check endorsement processes and could help them on the spot.”
Financial first responders
Rullah Price, community outreach director for Wells Fargo Home Lending, said the scope of the flooding in Louisiana and the more than 43,000 potentially affected mortgage customers in the region prompted Wells Fargo to dispatch its Mobile Response Unit to the area.
Wells Fargo also had a mobile ATM on hand, which provided some of the first access to cash for residents and relief workers when floodwaters receded.
“We have heard time and time again from our customers — and even from those who are not our customers — how much they appreciate Wells Fargo being present and available when tough times come to their communities,” Price said. “At each place we’ve rolled to, we’ve been the only bank I’ve seen helping customers in this way.”
In addition to the mobile relief unit’s work in Louisiana, Wells Fargo donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross in August to help Louisiana flood victims, and announced in October that it was donating $1.1 million to Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in the U.S. and Haiti. Of the total, $625,000 will go to the American Red Cross and $375,000 will support local nonprofit organizations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Wells Fargo is contributing $100,000 to the International Medical Corps to support relief efforts in Haiti.
Wells Fargo customers also donated $77,094.38 to the American Red Cross for flood relief efforts after Hurricane Matthew through an ATM campaign that ran Oct. 6 through Oct. 25 in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
On call from North Carolina
The Mobile Response Unit — a 75-foot, heavy-duty commercial vehicle based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — was on hand in Louisiana from Sept. 6 to Oct. 29. It was created after Hurricane Sandy to “be there on the ground when people need us there the most,” Price said.
“The Mobile Response Unit is truly a standalone, self-sufficient vehicle that allows us to respond quickly to communities that have been impacted by disasters,” she said.
The unit is built on a semi-trailer truck frame and is ADA compliant. It includes a wheelchair lift, eight private offices equipped with computer connectivity, a break area, and restrooms. The unit also is built to run off its own onboard generators and features a satellite backup system for transmitting data and phone calls if cellular service is disrupted.
Home Lending team members have used the Mobile Response Unit to provide on-the-scene service to help flood victims in Houston and assist former casino workers who lost their jobs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, due to downsizing.
The unit was dispatched this week to Lumberton, North Carolina, to assist residents affected by Hurricane Matthew. Doors opened 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 2320 W. 5th St.
‘I’ll never forget them’
The Aguirres decided to get help from Wells Fargo when they drove by the Mobile Response Unit about three weeks after the floodwaters receded in Louisiana.
Later that day, the couple returned to endorse the mortgage payoff check. Machuca sent it out overnight for next-day processing.
The Aguirres are currently living with one of their daughters as they get estimates from contractors and seek additional assistance to cover the gap between construction and the insurance check.
They said they’re glad to be several steps ahead in the process than other flood victims they know. “I love that Wells Fargo has a mobile unit like this to help customers after disasters,” Rhina Aguirre said. “I’m very happy with the process and that we had a place to go like this and get what we needed done.”
Machuca said he was glad there to help.
“I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet the Aguirres and see the same customers that my call center helps every day,” he said. “As he headed out, Juan told me, ‘I have always been with Wells Fargo when I came to America, and I will always remain with Wells Fargo.’
“I’ll never forget them.”