By Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir
(Reuters) – Cash has begun flowing again from the Federal Reserve’s steel and cement vault in Houston, heading for banks in the hurricane-ravaged region after several days of flooding halted armored-truck deliveries and stranded employees overnight.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey this week, water rose to the property of the U.S. central bank’s office in downtown Houston but did not reach the building or its above-ground vault, senior Fed officials said in an interview on Thursday.
The floods, which drenched the Gulf of Mexico coast and killed at least 35 people, marooned the Fed branch for a few days and stopped its cash shipments just as demand surged from nearby lenders. The first truck re-started deliveries on Wednesday, joining a fleet of others making emergency trips from the Fed’s San Antonio and Dallas offices to local banks that, in many cases, were not able to open on Monday.
“If in a certain location the logistics around a vault are imperiled, like in Houston, it puts much more burden on Dallas and San Antonio for re-routing … so that we can serve outlying areas of Houston,” Robert Kaplan, president of the Dallas Fed region that oversees Houston, told Reuters.
Those branches are delivering “a very high” amount of cash now, he added from the regional Fed headquarters in Dallas, without giving specifics.
Meanwhile, in the Fed’s 400-seat call center in Dallas, the first of about 100 agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have begun to set up shop. FEMA was concerned it would not have the physical capacity to handle calls from its existing center in nearby Denton, so the Dallas Fed offered its space, said its chief operating officer Meredith Black.
The facilities normally field calls for the U.S. Treasury to help people set up direct deposit of their federal benefit checks.
Dallas is one of the U.S. central bank’s 12 regional branches, supervising private lenders throughout Texas as well as parts of Louisiana and Oklahoma.
(For a map of Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston and region, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2erCMUT)
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
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