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Hospitals Report Ominous Emptiness

Fatalities, not injuries, leave health-care workers without people to help

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 12, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Expecting to be inundated with victims from yesterday's twin terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., medical personnel at nearby hospitals are dealing instead with an eerie void.

"Unfortunately, the grim reality is that there are those who either walked away [from the disaster sites] yesterday or last night or people who were unable to do so," said Mark D'Antonio, media relations coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.

On "high alert" yesterday, the Connecticut hospital -- like many others surrounding the disaster sites -- expected scores of burned and mangled survivors after hijacked jetliners toppled the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. The attacks were part of a coordinated effort in which a hijacked jetliner smashed into the Pentagon, and another went down in Pennsylvania en route to an unknown destination.

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore also had put itself on alert for Pentagon victims, canceling elective surgeries and hospital admissions and recalling all surgeons, burn specialists and the like.

"We were standing by to help in any way," said Gary Stephenson, associate director for media relations at Johns Hopkins.

Bayview Medical Center, one of the hospitals in the Hopkins system, did receive four burn victims from the Pentagon, he said, but the main hospital has not been called on for help. And Hopkins doctors have not been dispatched to either disaster site.

"They have plenty of help at this point," Stephenson said. "They have the medical and the rescue staff that they need."

However, trauma centers relatively close to the Twin Towers site have not been overwhelmed as expected -- a development many called ominous.

Since last night, only nine survivors, including at least two rescue workers, reportedly have been pulled from the masses of crumpled and smoldering steel, ash, concrete and glass.

By midday today, Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan reported it had admitted no new patients since 8:30 a.m. And St. Vincent's Medical Center in lower Manhattan said it had admitted a handful of rescue workers with minor injuries but few others, according to a report from ABC News.

In fact, emergency room admissions in general appear much lower than usual, D'Antonio says. At his Connecticut hospital, about 90 miles from lower Manhattan, the board in the emergency room showed only four patients, rather than the usual 30-some, at 6:15 this morning. That's a number he called "unusual for any day of the week," but probably indicative of people not wanting to clog up the system unless they have a true emergency.

So far, some 1,700 people from the collapse of the 1,350-foot-tall twin towers have been treated at local hospitals, according to reports from the New York City mayor's office.

However, the number of victims mushrooms when officials start referring to probable fatalities. Both President George Bush and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have said publicly they expect a death toll in the thousands.

The head of the local recovery effort in Virginia said as many as 800 people may have died at the Pentagon, although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this afternoon that estimate may be far too high. Some officials said the death toll may be closer to 200.

The four hijacked planes that crashed had 266 people aboard, all of whom died.

Normally, 50,000 people worked in offices in Manhattan's twin towers, although the relatively early hour of the attack -- shortly before 9 a.m. -- may have meant that only 10,000 to 20,000 people were in the buildings at the time. How many escaped before the towers collapsed may not be known for weeks.

More than 23,000 people, military and civilian, work at the Pentagon. Officials said it's not yet known how many worked in the area struck by the jetliner.

As darkness approached last night, sheet-covered bodies on stretchers were beginning to form a gruesome line on grassy areas near the Pentagon, the nation's military nerve center.

And in New York overnight, officials reportedly used ferries and taxicabs to take bodies recovered from the World Trade Center area to a morgue set up across the Hudson River at the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, N.J.

What To Do

For information on how you might help in some way:

  • If you want to give blood, call the American Red Cross at 1-800-448-3543.
  • If you want to contribute cash, call the Red Cross at 1-800-HELP NOW or the Salvation Army, at 1-800-SAL ARMY.
  • Medical personnel or others who want to donate their services should contact their local Red Cross office.

For information on how the federal government is helping with the relief effort, go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency online.

SOURCES: Interviews with Mark D'Antonio, media relations coordinator, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Conn.; Gary Stephenson, associate director for media relations, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
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