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Evacuations resume at flooded hospital

Operations halted day before by sniper fire



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New Orleans (Louisiana)
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Disasters (General)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Efforts to evacuate some of the 200 patients at New Orleans' Charity Hospital resumed Friday, a day after they were halted because of sniper fire.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported "disgusting" conditions at the city's largest hospital, which lost power after Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Monday and has had no water since Tuesday. There were two sniper incidents Thursday at Charity.

"It's still kind of crazy," Gupta reported Friday before the evacuations began again around noon. "There are still some concerns about safety. We don't know where these snipers went -- if they were caught, shot or what happened. (Watch video of Gupta describing the dire conditions -- 4:45.)

"So they're still always looking to the skies, looking to the tops of buildings to figure out if they are safe, at the same time [that they're] trying to take care of these patients," he said. (Read more of Gupta's account.)

Remaining staff members were to be evacuated Friday from Tulane University Hospital, said Jeff Prescott, spokesman for Hospital Corporation of America, which operates the hospital.

Helicopters have been landing on Tulane's parking deck to evacuate that hospital and Charity, which is across the street. Tulane has contracted about 20 helicopters for the evacuations, Prescott said.

At Methodist Hospital, about 300 employees are being evacuated Friday.

An unidentified staff member at Kindred Hospital said everyone would be leaving that facility Friday by ground ambulance.

On Thursday, officials evacuated hundreds of patients from water-logged hospitals in New Orleans and other places hit hard by Katrina.

Evacuees from Tulane were taken to an airport triage center, then bused or flown to other hospitals. Many were taken to Lafayette, where HCA has a shelter.

Shots also were fired at an Army Chinook helicopter evacuating people from the Louisiana Superdome, causing Arcadian Ambulance Service to end their operations at the facility, said ambulance company spokeswoman Julie Mahfouz.

Arcadian still was removing patients from Charity and Tulane hospitals and taking them to New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport to board a C-130 cargo plane.

"Obviously, the patients are the primary concern, but I believe arrangements are being made to remove staff" as well, said Arcadian spokesman Keith Simon.

Difficult decisions

At the airport, CNN's Ed Lavandera reported "a steady stream of helicopters" ferrying people to where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a complex of field hospitals.

"There's never any fewer than five helicopters landing on the tarmac at any given time," Lavandera said.

"It has gone so far and above what they expected to handle at this field hospital it is overwhelming," Lavandera said. "Many of these people have been working around the clock for the last 48 hours to handle many of these people." (Watch video of Lavandera describing the airport's use as a hospital -- 2:46.)

Airport equipment that normally moved luggage was being used to ferry evacuees and patients around the tarmac, Lavandera said.

The facility was operating much like a military field hospital, Lavandera said, and the staff was forced to make some difficult decisions about treatment.

"There are several cases that have come through here where they have to 'black tag' the person, where basically they're just left to die," Lavandera said.

"It's a painful decision for these people, but they know that if they waste all these resources on saving a person that might die, 10 others might die as well, so they have to try to save those other 10.

"That is an awful thing to have to comprehend, but it's the reality they're faced with," he said.

Concerns mounting

Gupta described the process of evacuating patients from hospitals who needed ventilating: They were taken by boat to a parking deck, then carried up eight flights of stairs to a helicopter landing area. Two patients died while waiting, Gupta said.

The hospital's basement, where the morgue is located, is flooded, forcing staff to stash bodies in the stairwells, Gupta said.

"[There are] lots of concerns about infectious diseases, lots of concerns about patients who would otherwise have lived normal and prosperous lives dying here waiting to get out," he said. "The inability to get people out of these hospitals is frightening."

With reports of armed men trying to break into hospitals, hijackers surrounding a medical resupply truck and deteriorating conditions, a national hospital corporation hired a fleet of private helicopters to evacuate Memorial Medical Center on Thursday.

"We were advised by officials on the ground to take the matter into our own hands," said Trevor Fetter, president and CEO of Tenet Healthcare Corp., which runs Memorial Medical.

Dr. Tyler Curiel said he witnessed Thursday's sniper incidents outside Charity Hospital.

"We were coming in from a parking deck at Tulane Medical Center, and a guy in a white shirt started firing at us," Curiel said. "The National Guard, wearing flak jackets, tried to get a bead on this guy. "

The first incident happened around 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) Thursday as Curiel and his National Guard escorts headed back to Charity after dropping off patients at Tulane to be evacuated by helicopter.

They were traveling in a convoy of amphibious vehicles, and Curiel said the vehicle behind him was targeted. About an hour later, another gunman opened fire at the back of Charity.

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