MONDAY, AUGUST 29:
Katrina Lands in New Orleans
OCF lost power in the early morning of August 29. Our facility sustained water and roof damage on the top floors of the hospital and unexpected ceiling glass breaks in the walkways. The howling of the intense wind created an ominous feeling among all of those sheltered in the facility. Fortunately, only minor flooding occurred around the institution.
In contrast, major flooding was reported throughout metropolitan New Orleans—especially in New Orleans East and surrounding low-lying parishes. Major wind damage was seen in buildings in the central business district, and 100% of the power was out in that area.
Downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter were dry thanks to the pumping system. Disturbingly, though, breaches in the levee system protecting New Orleans were reported in the 17th Street Canal.
By Monday afternoon, our entire facility was running on emergency generators, which provided energy only for essential equipment and left the institution with no air-conditioning, minimal lighting, and no plumbing. Physicians used flashlights to see patients, and the rooms became unbearably hot and humid; the heat index outside was 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
All regular communications went off service, including telephone lines, cell phones, and outside pagers. Fortunately OCF had invested in Spectralink phones in the past few years; this internal, antenna-based phone system continued to function. We were even able to dial long-distance intermittently. Our information system also went down, but we kept generator power for intermittent use of the Internet and Intranet to allow our employees to access information and contact with the outside world. At night—from the towers of our hospital—it was strange to see our former city of lights in total darkness.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30:
Hurricane Aftermath Day 1
Reports of catastrophic flooding and heroic rooftop rescues in New Orleans East and other parishes were announced on the radio and via the Internet. Unfortunately the levee breach at the 17th Street Canal became uncontrolled, and water began flowing from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans, ultimately flooding 80% of the city of New Orleans. The Superdome and the Convention Center began to fill with thousands of refugees.
The lack of electricity, inadequate food and water supplies, overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitary conditions, and—later—security concerns exponentially created a humanitarian crisis. We were devastated by the plight of our fellow New Orleans residents, whose only crime was, largely, being too poor to evacuate. Approximately 300,000 people never evacuated, and this posed an interminable challenge for city, state, and federal governments. Unfortunately the acts of a few heartless gangs tarnished the beautiful and friendly image of the Big Easy.
At Ochsner we began to conserve our resources because of the commitment to care for more than 500 people onsite. Our dietary department provided approximately 1,600 meals daily, working in hot and sweaty conditions. In the hospital the heat began to take a physical toll on everyone. We also suffered the psychological toll of not knowing what had happened to our families, friends, and belongings. We lost the ability to run most laboratory studies. We concentrated our efforts in preserving human lives with only basic means.
With no working elevators, navigating 11 floors of the hospital was a challenge for all. Our survival tactics included not just adequate fluid hydration, but electrolyte replacement. Unexpectedly, we discovered that OCF had invested in a deep-well water system separate