The federal government declared a public health emergency for the Gulf Coast region, promising 40 medical centers with up to 10,000 beds and thousands of doctors and nurses for the hurricane-ravaged area.
In a stunning example of how desperate the situation has become, 25 babies who had been in a makeshift neonatal intensive care unit at New Orleans' Ochsner Clinic were flown Wednesday to hospitals in Houston, Baton Rouge, La., and Birmingham, Ala. Many were hooked up to battery-operated breathing machines keeping them alive.
Their parents had been forced to evacuate and leave the infants behind. By late in the day, most if not all parents had been contacted and told where their babies were being taken, hospital spokeswoman Katherine Voss said.
"We actually encouraged them to leave. It would just be more people to evacuate if there was a problem," said Dr. Vince Adolph, a pediatric surgeon.
Helicopters had to land on the roof of the parking garage to get the babies because water covered the helipad at the hospital, one of the few in the area that had been operating almost normally.
"We're getting kind of at the end of our rope," with a skeleton staff of doctors and nurses who have been on duty nonstop since Sunday, Voss said.
Officials were trying to evacuate 10,000 people out of nine hospitals battling floodwaters or using generators running low on fuel. About 300 people were stranded on the roof of a two-story hospital in the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette.
Yet even as they tried to evacuate, many hospitals faced an onslaught of new patients Â people with injuries and infections caused by the storm, dehydrated people plucked from rooftops, dialysis and cancer patients in need of their regular chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
By day's end, Coast Guard air and boat crews had rescued 2,000 people across the region and recovery teams were delivering food, water, medical equipment and other supplies, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Carter.
I just heard an interview with medical personnel from one of the local hospitals. They're working without water; they're taking care of patients without the benefit of labs. They have no idea if, and when they will be evacuated.
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American Red Cross: (800) HELP NOW (435-7669) in English, (800) 257-7575 in Spanish
CDC Foundation Emergency Preparedness & Response Fund: (888) 880-4232
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