UNC Hospitals' Hurricane Katrina Response Blog


As part of the response to Hurricane Katrina, a team of UNC Hospitals' physicians and staff left Friday, Sept. 2 to travel to the Gulf Coast as part of the MidCarolina Trauma RAC's State Medical Assistance Team II. The team from UNC Hospitals is comprised of: Christine Clark, RN; Randy Kearns; Preston "Chip" Rich, MD; Michele Rudisill, RN; Ed Wilson, RN; Ben Zarzaur, MD; and Janet Young, MD. A second team from UNC Hospitals left Sept. 9 to relieve the first group of volunteers. The second team to help staff the K-Mart Klinic in Waveland, Miss., is comprised of: Alberto Bonifacio, RN; Joe Manese, Radiology Tech; Peter Milano, 5th year surgical resident; Andrew Millager, Pharmacist; Jim Rawlings, Pastoral Care; Tina Schade-Willis, MD; Renae Stafford, Trauma Attending Surgeon; Jim Starlin, Air Care Communications; and Wes Wallace, MD., attending, emergency medicine.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

24 Hours

The past 24 hours have been some of the toughest 24 hours spent here by many of the responders. As the first group cycled out with the flights arriving and departing, storms moved in from the outer bands of Hurricane Rita. While the brunt of the hurricane stayed to our south and moved on to the west, outer bands began to filter into our area. At 9am, we had a possible tornado warning. Later, we learned the first Tornado Warning was a false alarm. Nevertheless, as the looming weather was accompanied by additional watches and warnings, we were developing additional plans to deal with the changes in the weather. They included:

1. Limited closure of the facility
2. Evacuate most of the staff to Stennis Air Force Base
3. Identify a safe location to rapidly evacuate the remaining few of us here at the base camp.

We closed the hospital to all but emergent conditions, and refered all of the walking wounded to shelters until the weather passed. We located a concrete and steel storage building across the parking lot, that had survived the previous storm completely in tact. We took a group there to clean it and that was going to be an option for a storm shelter. We also needed to move a majority of the staff to a safer location. Trailers and tents are no place to be in a tornado. While the sustained winds here never reached our "bug out" level of 39 or gusts of 50 nor did the area ever enter a Hurricane Watch area, the winds were in the 20 and 30 mph range. The rain came in sheets and what little of the outer bands we received, were still a challenge to a compound of tents and trailers. We arranged for busses to transport both the group scheduled to have left on Thursday and the group that had just arrived, over to Stennis Air Force Base. Other than just over a dozen of us here, to manage an occasional patient and hold down the fort, the place was an erie quiet.

The second group coming from NC had a flight delay that turned into a cancelation due to the changing weather. Then they had a bus ride of 12+ hours only to spend the rest of the night at the NASA base at Stennis. Hopefully, they are fully rested and fed and with the weather passing, they will be here later this morning. Today we had a flash flood warning, high wind warning and tornado watch until noon. However the weather has broke and other than some winds of 10-18 mph, the sky is mostly clear. Right now, we anticipate reopening the hospital at noon.

Fortunately the bus that came, had a relief driver with him and the second group that needed to leave finally left at about 4am this morning from Stennis for what I am sure is a long ride home.

Hopefully, their experience will be as mine after my first rotation. Once you get a chance to sleep in your bed, and see your family, will you truly have the time to reflect on what has and continues to be a wonderful experience that has impacted the lives of others as well as your own.