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Texas hospitals assess flooding damage

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- One of this city's top trauma centers -- designed not to flood -- experienced "catastrophic flooding," forcing the transfer of 540 patients to another medical center, James Easton, CEO of Memorial Hermann Hospital, said Wednesday.

The power went out Saturday at Memorial Hermann -- which is still closed -- stopping services for the first time since the medical center opened in 1925.

All the water has been pumped out of the facility's basement, and crews have begun to clean up and assess the damage.

At least four critically ill patients died after the main power went out and the backup generator kicked in, Easton said. All four were being hand-ventilated at the time of their deaths, he said.

One patient in critical condition died while being transported after the generator stopped working, and another critically ill man died within 24 hours of being transferred, Easton said.

"As a result of the flood, no patient's care was compromised nor did we have any injuries," Easton said, noting that none of the patients' deaths were "unexpected."

The generator ran for less than two hours before the switching gear was completely flooded and the generator stopped working, he said.

Dr. Steve Allen of Memorial Hermann explained that medical staff, including paramedics stranded at the facility, displayed a "heroic effort" to manually respirate the patients in the intensive care unit.~

Easton said the teamwork to transport the patients was "a remarkable feat" and noted how effectively the community pulled together, a statement that prompted a round of applause from medical workers at Wednesday's press conference.

Memorial Hermann was one of more than a dozen Texas Medical Center institutions that suffered power outages caused by massive flooding from Tropical Storm Allison -- the costliest tropical storm in U.S. history, causing at least $1 billion of damages in Texas alone.

Quickly rising waters Saturday filled the University of Texas Medical School Building basement , which housed some 4,700 animals for research. All were lost. Other animals housed at other UT-Houston facilities were unharmed.

Damage to the university's research effort is great, said George Stancel, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. A full assessment of the losses will take weeks, he said, but some scientists have lost the fruits of years of important work.

Employees continued efforts Wednesday to protect irreplaceable lab and tissue specimens by bringing in dry ice to keep the critical research material cold.

"We will rebuild," Stancel said. "Some of us have been here since there was nothing here but a parking lot. We will come back from this."

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