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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Help 'too late' to save patients
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New Orleans

Sign outside Memorial Hospital, New Orleans
Staff stayed to care for patients who were not moved before floods hit

The authorities in New Orleans have removed 45 bodies from a city hospital badly hit by flooding.

The dead were geriatric patients thought to have expired in the heat after Hurricane Katrina knocked out the hospital's power supply.

Hospital officials have given grim details of the final hours of those who died in Memorial Medical Center, which was abandoned to floodwaters more than a week ago.

Despite the desperate efforts of staff and family members to keep them cool, it is thought that many vulnerable patients simply could not cope with the stifling conditions in the damaged medical centre.

One look at the seven-foot (two metres) high water mark on the hospital walls is enough to conjure up a vision of the chaos that ensued as hundreds were trapped by rising floods.

Hospital staff had begun evacuating patients before Hurricane Katrina struck the city.

But once the waters came, their job became horrendously difficult.

'No co-ordination'

Patients confined to their beds on wards as high as the seventh floor needed to be carried hundreds of yards through the hospital in order to reach an evacuation point.

Even then, rescue boats were in short supply.

The care to patients was heroic, but I was disappointed in the system
Dave Goodson
Hospital administrator
As they awaited help, staff and family members tried desperately to ease the suffering of patients wilting in the heat - but to no avail.

While refusing to apportion blame, a hospital administrator told the BBC that he was "disappointed" by a lack of co-ordination in official efforts to evacuate the 317-bed facility.

Hospital administrator Dave Goodson said: "The care to patients was heroic, but I was disappointed in the system."

National Guard troops sent to check the 317-bed hospital had been fully evacuated apparently went to a similarly named centre on the other side of New Orleans, said the official.

The main source of help came from family members and staff with boats.

Help from the authorities failed to arrive until it was too late, Mr Goodson said.

Heat 'major factor'

"There should have been a more co-ordinated approach to organising the evacuation," he added.

"I cannot get into the clinical diagnosis, but I would say they died because heat was a major factor."

The hospital was abandoned about a week ago, with the dead still inside.

Flood debris in a road at Memorial Hospital, New Orleans
The bodies had to be left when the hospital was abandoned last week

Their bodies were only removed on Sunday, and the news only announced on Monday afternoon, hours after President Bush had left the New Orleans area.

Bob Johannesen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, said the Louisiana death toll from Katrina had risen to 279, up from 197 at the weekend.

Mr Goodson said the patients that died had not been abandoned, but had expired despite the best efforts of those around them.

Staff at the facility were "relieved" that the bodies had finally been taken away with dignity, he added.

Last week more than 30 bodies were recovered from a nursing home in lower St Bernard Parish - one of the areas hardest hit by Katrina and its aftermath.

Elderly patients confined to their beds or wheelchairs were reported to have been swiftly overwhelmed by the rising floodwaters.

As the door-to-door operation to recover dead bodies widens around the city, it is sure to reveal more tragic details of the plight of Hurricane Katrina's many victims.

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