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Friday, September 2, 2005 - Page updated at 09:04 AM

Complete hurricane coverage

Complete hurricane coverage

A seattletimes.com special section

Desperate docs to news service: "Please help us"

The Associated Press

Doctors at two hospitals in New Orleans called The Associated Press yesterday morning pleading for rescue, saying they were nearly out of food and power and had been forced to move patients to higher floors to escape looters.

"We have been trying to call the mayor's office, we have been trying to call the governor's office ... we have tried to use any inside pressure we can. We are turning to you. Please help us," said Dr. Norman McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital, the larger of two public hospitals.

Charity Hospital is across the street from Tulane University Medical Center, a private facility that has almost completed evacuating more than 1,000 patients and family members, he said.

No such resources are available for Charity, which has about 250 patients, or University Hospital several blocks away, which has about 110 patients. Tulane's heliport is available if patients from the public hospitals could be brought there, McSwain said.

"We need coordinated help from the government," he said.

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Surgeon General's Office said five private helicopters had been secured to start taking patients out of Charity Hospital. Efforts to get more information from Charity or University hospitals were unsuccessful because phone lines were jammed.

One of the hospital's doctors told CNN a sniper had opened fire outside Charity as National Guard vehicles prepared to evacuate patients. After waiting all day, hospital officials loaded some people onto boats, but some were returning because transportation anticipated at higher ground wasn't available, Dr. Ruth Berggren said.

By then, several of the sickest patients had died, said Berggren. "They just brought a dead body down from the third floor."

Earlier, McSwain described horrific conditions in his hospital. "There is no food in Charity Hospital. They're eating fruit-bowl punch and that's all they've got to eat. There's minimal water.

"Most of their power is out. Much of the hospital is dark. The ICU [intensive-care unit] is on the 12th floor, so the physicians and nurses are having to walk up floors to see the patients."

Dr. Lee Hamm, chairman of medicine at Tulane University, said he took a canoe from there to the two public hospitals, where he also works, to check on conditions.

"The physicians and nurses are doing an incredible job, but there are patients laying on stretchers on the floor, the halls were dark, the stairwells are dark. Of course, there's no elevators," he said.

Richard Zuschlag, president of Acadian Ambulance Service, described the chaos at a suburban hospital.

"We tried to airlift supplies into Kenner Memorial Hospital late last evening and were confronted by an unruly crowd with guns, and the pilots refused to land," he said.

"My medics were crying, screaming for help. When we tried to land at Kenner, my pilots got scared because 100 people were on the helipad and some of them had guns. He was frightened and would not land."

Zuschlag said 65 patients brought to the roof of another city hospital, Touro Infirmary, for evacuation Wednesday night spent the night there. The hospital's generator and backup generator had failed, and doctors decided it was safer to keep everyone on the roof than carry fragile patients back downstairs.

"The hospital was so hot that with no rain or anything, they were better off in the fresh air on the roof," he said.

Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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