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Legal Aid
Hurricane Ida Leaves
Legal Problems In Its Wake
By Sara Planthaber, J.D., M.S.W.,
Legal Aid of Southern PA
O
n Sept. 1, remnants of Hurricane Ida devastated the homes and
businesses of hundreds of Chester County residents. Around 11
inches of rain and powerful winds caused extensive flooding
throughout our county, and especially in Downingtown, Coatesville,
Avondale, and Oxford. Images of boat rescues were common in the
Phoenixville and Downingtown areas. At relief centers in the days
following the storm, residents recalled terrifying stories of rain and
waste water pouring in from the street, surging in some places over
20 feet into residents' homes. Second- and third-floor apartments were
not spared, as water overflowed from plumbing and spilled from toilets
and drains, creating a desperate and dangerous situation for
county families.
In response, Chester County established a Multi-Agency Resource
Center (MARC) at the United Sports Center in Downingtown. Residents
from throughout the county were bused to the center seeking aid.
About 30 state agencies and nonprofit organizations began meeting
clients, before the federal disaster declaration on Sept.10 made Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources available. During
the two-day event, Legal Aid of Southeastern PA (LASP) staff members
Sara Planthaber, Renee Harris, and Brian Doyle met with more than
110 community members. These residents sought help with a wide
range of legal issues resulting from the storm, including the impacts
on landlord-tenant relationships, home ownership, insurance claims,
destroyed identity documents, and accessing public assistance and
disaster relief. In the landlord-tenant context, of particular concern was
the alarming number of month-to-month tenants suddenly confronted
by homelessness.
Following the federal disaster declaration, FEMA opened a Disaster
Recovery Center at Ashbridge Square, 945 E. Lancaster Ave. in
Downingtown. At the DRC, residents impacted by Hurricane Ida can
apply for FEMA disaster aid, as well as meet with staff members from
state and local government and social service agencies, including LASP.
Most significantly, thanks to Matt Holliday at the Chester County
Bar Association. He has helped connect LASP to community groups
throughout the county and referred clients to us quickly so we can
assist them. He also assists LASP in pro bono recruitment.
LASP has developed a partnership with the American Bar
Association's Disaster Legal Services team, and is taking a leadership
role by operating a statewide helpline for disaster survivors. The
22 | New Matter
Top: Sara Planthaber, J.D., M.S.W., staffed Legal Aid of Southeastern PA's legal
information table at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Downingtown
Sept. 27.
Bottom: LASP representatives Brian Doyle, Sara Planthaber and Renee Harris
(at right) met with 110 community members at the Multi-Agency Resource
Center, held in Downingtown Sept. 8-9 in response to Hurricane Ida.
Helpline number is 877-429-5994. This coincides with LASP's regular
Helpline number; callers will identify as having a Hurricane Ida impact,
and additional LASP staff trained in disaster legal aid will help callers.
LASP will assist survivors by providing legal advice and representation
for hurricane-related legal matters and will refer clients to social service
agencies and community groups when appropriate.
While LASP serves as a community resource, many clients have
legal issues outside the scope of LASP's regular practice. We need the
assistance of local volunteer attorneys to help clients with other legal
needs resulting from the flooding. We thank pro bono volunteers and
Lawyer Referral Service attorneys who have answered the call to assist
these clients start to rebuild their lives after this traumatic experience.
As a bar association and community, we can ease the strain now to
build our community back stronger in the future.
To volunteer, contact Brian Doyle, Staff Attorney, at 484-416-4259
x5210 or bdoyle@lasp.org. LASP's Hurricane Ida webpage is at lasp.org/
hurricane-ida.
http://www.lasp.org/

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