Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Hospital In A Disaster

New Orleans Memorial Hospital, Monday, August 29, 2004. Two hundred patients, 600 staff and over 1,000 refugees are in the building. At 4:55 AM the power fails and the emergency generators kick on to keep the medical equipment operating. Air conditioning fails, only one elevator is operational. Helicopters arrive on the helipad to evacuate patients. Doctors, nurses and staff struggle to carry patients down six flights of stairs to the helipad. Toilets back up. Water stops flowing from taps. Condensation is running down the walls.

At 2 A.M. Wednesday the emergency generators sputter and stop. Dozens of alarm bells sound from ventilators and life-support monitors as they switch to their back-up batteries. The emergency lights dim and fail. Helicopters cannot land in the darkness because the pad is not lit. The only working elevator stops. Staffers and volunteers struggle to carry patients down six flights of stairs in the dark.

Half an hour later the ventilator batteries begin to fail. Nurses grab Ambu bags and manually squeeze air into patients' lungs.

A 61-year-old pulmonary specialist straps on his Beretta. The hospital administrator distributes guns to the security staff. Stone-faced State Police armed with shotguns arrive and announce that the entire hospital must be cleared by 5 P.M.; they will not stay and protect the hospital after that.

An absolutely riveting account of Hurricane Katrina in the New York Times. It reads more like a TEOTWAWKI novel, but it's true.

No comments: