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The rain that hit South Texas with a fury has officials at the University of Houston Law Center scrambling to keep summer school going and salvage the library, where some of the state’s legal history might have been washed away. Tropical Storm Allison dumped 3 feet of rain in the area, setting off some of the worst flooding ever and devastating Houston. Twenty-two people in the Harris County, Texas, area died, and thousands were left homeless. Damage estimates have risen above $2.1 billion. At the University of Houston, more than 2 million gallons of water were pumped out of 90 buildings throughout its downtown campus. Many of the approximately 5,000 students attending the 130 summer classes offered, including all the law students, were shifted to other locations. Total loss estimates are in the high tens of millions of dollars. UH Law Center Dean Nancy Rapoport says the damage to her school alone is at least in the seven figures and could climb higher. “The estimate keeps mounting,” she says. “It’s going to be a lot of money.” UH was the hardest hit by the storm of the three law schools in the city. Phones, electricity, computers and air conditioning went out. Carpets were soaked. Furniture was ruined. High water made moving around the buildings difficult. The worst effects were at the O’Quinn Law Library, where more than 200,000 books and 1.2 million microfiche were damaged, some irretrievably. Among the damaged items were the Judge John R. Brown papers, which included the late 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals jurist’s Admiralty and Maritime Collection; the Foreign & International Law Collection; and collections of government documents, state statutes and recorders. “Basically, the lower level of the library is a total loss,” says Jon Schultz, law professor, associate dean and director of the O’Quinn Law Library. “The water was 12 feet deep. All the papers are mush, and the books got extremely heavy and destroyed the shelving. This may be the biggest loss in American legal education history.” The microfiche contain all kinds of legal materials that are hard to assemble as a collection, Schultz says. Some contain copies of all the collections of law libraries at Harvard University and other Ivy League schools, he says. There also are treatises, congressional legislation, cases and other materials on them. The UH Law Center has called in one of its own graduates, Don Hartsell, who’s an expert in salvaging water-damaged materials. The microfiche is replaceable, but some of the other collections, especially the Brown materials, are not. Hartsell and his Houston-based company, Solex Environmental Systems, worked with NASA in 1987 to restore 97 percent of the water-damaged books salvaged from a fire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library. “We’re using the best technology to save what we can save,” Schultz says. “The quantity of it is simply overwhelming.” Sandra Guerra Thompson, the associate dean for academic affairs, says that a renovation project added to the flooding woes. Outdoor tiles in a courtyard in front of the library were being replaced because they leaked when it rained, she says, and all of them had been pulled up before Allison hit. Without the tiles, water poured into the library. Also hit hard were the offices of the student law organizations. “We went from having protection that was leaky to having no protection,” Thompson says. The damage at the library has been devastating, particularly the Brown papers, she says, equating it to the loss of photo albums. “That’s one of the first things we started working to save,” Thompson says. “That was the one that hurt us the most.” SUBSTITUTE CLASSROOMS Classes for the approximately 400 students attending summer school have been moved to South Texas College of Law, other classrooms at UH Downtown, he Chevron Building, Vinson & Elkins and the office of adjunct law Professor Michael Clann. The students will have access to the South Texas law library. Thompson says the classes will remain at these sites for the rest of the summer session. Some employees of the UH Law Center will telecommute, while others have been assigned temporary offices set up in the luxury boxes at the UH Hofheinz Pavilion, where they’ll have computers, phones, copiers and fax machines. The UH Law Center tentatively is scheduled to reopen in August. At Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, about 40 books of government documents were destroyed, and the basement of its library took some water damage. There’s no cost estimate of the damage yet. South Texas College of Law was luckier. A small amount of water got into the first floor of the library, but even the carpet was saved. Rapoport says there’s good news: No one at UH was injured or killed. The repairs on the UH Law Center will result in an improved building that will withstand Mother Nature better, she adds. The dean also says she’s touched by all the help the UH Law Center has received, from its own employees working long days to people outside the university. “The entire community is working together,” she says. “I’m incredibly grateful to everyone pitching in.”

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