The situation in Houston continues to worsen as the rain continues to fall. Courts and law schools are closed—and then Lone Star Legal Aid’s Houston office blew up Monday morning.
An explosion caused a significant fire at Lone Star’s downtown office at Fannin and Bell streets on Monday morning, possibly from a gas leak, according to news reports.
Phones and emails are out for all of Lone Star Legal Aid’s offices due to the rain and flooding, the group posted on its Facebook page Monday afternoon. Offices in Houston, Galveston, Andleton/Clute, Beaumont, Bryan, Conroe and Nacogdoches remain closed.
Legal aids and law firm pro bono coordinators in Atlanta and elsewhere are mobilizing to help their compadres in Texas.
“We are prepared to respond to whatever the asks are, once they get past rescue and survival mode,” said Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird’s director of pro bono and community service.
Naja said a disaster of this magnitude means Lone Star Legal Aid would already be swamped trying to help people compounded by being shut down themselves by Hurricane Harvey.
“When legal aid is needed most, they are suffering in an unimaginable way,” she said.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, New York and New Jersey legal aid groups were so overwhelmed by the need that volunteer lawyers from Alston & Bird and other firms with offices there pitched in, Naja said, adding that the New York State Bar Association coordinated the legal aid efforts.
“In the Rockaway community, we had people who went every Saturday to a walk-in clinic to help people fill out forms and get their paperwork in order so they were not taken advantage of,” she said.
The legal aid effort after Sandy continued for four or five months, Naja said, because there were so many people needing legal help. “People are also displaced,” she added.
Alston & Bird has a Dallas office, and Atlanta’s King & Spalding and Eversheds Sutherland have big Houston offices.
Naja said Vinson & Elkins’ pro bono counsel in Houston, Ellyn Haikin Josef, is keeping the national pro bono community up to date on the developments and needs there.
“This is something that people outside of Houston need to pitch in on—and there are plenty who are willing,” she said.