The Storm After The Calm

Catching up with the news, it appears that the initial effects of Katrina were milder than expected, but the aftermath is meeting the dire predictions made earlier in the week. It wasn't the acute wind and rain from the hurricane that put the most lives in danger, but rather the flood that came after it appeared that the worst was over. When the New Orleans levees broke, the water came insidiously like a thief in the night. The death toll has been climbing pretty fast all day, from single digits when I checked the web this morning to potentially hundreds tonight. Someone on MSNBC just said that another levee might break during the night. There's an eerie ambiance to the aftermath - the water, the heat and humidity, the darkness, the looting, alligators and snakes invading residential neighborhoods, martial law, carjackings, riverboat casinos a-grounded, houses floating free of foundations and smashing into each other, rooftop rescues, people falling from the upper levels of the Superdome, rioting prison inmates, shattered bridges, month-long evacuations...

Many New Orleans hospitals are being evacuated by helicopter. It appears that the most critically-ill patients are being moved first. Moving an intensive care unit patient even within the hosptial can be a major task. They are usually unconscious and cannot follow commands, attached to ventilators for respiratory support, and have a host of IVs/drips. Even something as seemingly innocuous as moving a patient to a different floor and back for a CT scan is a feat in itself. The patients normally need a nurse trained in critical care to watch them pretty much all the time. I can't imagine the effort and manpower to actually move an ICU patient via helicopter to another location.

According to this article, there are about 2,500 patients in New Orleans hospitals, all of which are running on generators. Unfortunately, it appears that conditions are heading closer and closer to one of the cruelest ethical dilemmas imaginable - the rationing of scarce, life-saving medical care; the ultimate triage.

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How far is it to the nearest

How far is it to the nearest hospitals to which patients can be moved? I imagine that many nearby must have been damaged by the original storm. It does seem apocalyptic, reading the reports.