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Medical workers treat host of injured

Hospitals put on alert in neighboring states; triage centers set up

By Jonathan Bor and Diana Sugg

Sun Staff

September 12, 2001

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Doctors and hospitals scrambled yesterday to treat more than 2,000 burned, broken and crushed patients taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Medical officials set up makeshift emergency rooms, appealed for volunteer staff and set up triage centers, including one at a New Jersey waterfront park where hundreds were ferried throughout the day.

Meanwhile, patients injured when an airliner slammed into the Pentagon were taken by ambulance and helicopter to hospitals in Virginia and Washington. By late afternoon, the largest number - about 31 - had been taken to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, a spokesman said.

Washington Hospital Center treated 12 patients, including seven with second- and third-degree burns who were listed in critical condition last night, a spokesman said.

Victims from the attack on the World Trade Center began arriving at nearby hospitals about an hour after two planes crashed into the twin towers.

By late afternoon, the largest number - about 300 - had arrived at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village. Doctors were treating victims for broken bones, burns, concussions, smoke inhalation and eye injuries. Officials converted space not normally used for patient care into emergency treatment rooms.

"Most of the initial injuries were burns and projectile damage ... lacerations of people's legs, fractures and that kind of thing," said Leonard Bakalchuk, an emergency room doctor. "Later on, there were smoke-inhalation injuries."

The doctor also described patients with "severe burns covering most of their bodies and faces."

Dazed people staggered into St. Vincent's and other hospitals, looking for family members who had gone to work at the World Trade Center and hadn't been heard from since.

"I went here and called a few hospitals, but they don't have his name," said Shirley Liriano of Queens, who went to St. Vincent's to find her husband, Francisco. "I tried his cell phone. It sometimes rings but then cuts off like nobody's there."

Said a friend who accompanied her: "We've been telling her there's hope. She's got to believe there is a possibility he's still alive."

Bellevue Hospital had taken in 125 casualties, between 30 and 40 of whom were described as having serious injuries such as broken bones, internal injuries and burns.

"The numbers keep growing as we speak," said Dr. Louis Marcos, president of the New York Health and Hospitals Corp., which includes Bellevue and 10 other hospitals. "This is something that gives you nightmares, something you see in the movies."

At hospitals throughout the city, emergency medical officials put out calls for volunteer nurses and doctors. A convoy of about 120 doctors and medical professionals streamed toward the disaster scene in pickup trucks and ambulances.

Paramedics waiting to be sent into the rubble of the flattened towers were told that "once the smoke clears, it's going to be massive bodies," according to Brian Stark, a former Navy paramedic who volunteered to help. Ad-hoc medical crews formed to collect blood donations.

Nearby, a construction crew hauled two-by-fours and plywood to the emergency teams to be used as makeshift stretchers.

Triage centers were being established in lower Manhattan and at a sports complex on the borough's Lower West Side, officials said.

Inside the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex, doctors in scrubs set up a triage center in preparation for the return of ambulances. Volunteers prepared makeshift beds by spreading sheets over tables. Emergency medical professionals rushed to set up oxygen tanks.

More than 1,000 victims with less severe injuries were taken by ferry to Liberty State Park in New Jersey - across a narrow stretch of water from the Statue of Liberty - where ambulances with flashing lights and wailing sirens took them to hospitals. One burn victim caught a ferry on his own, then flagged down an ambulance when he arrived at the opposite shore.

New Jersey's health department placed all hospitals on full disaster alert, meaning they had to take steps such as canceling elective surgeries.

Some of the hospitals in northeast New Jersey that took in patients reported running short on supplies such as intravenous kits and medicines, said a spokesman for the state hospital association. The association put out a call for additional nurses to bolster the staffs of overwhelmed hospitals; many apparently responded.

Hospitals in other states, including Pennsylvania and Connecticut, braced for potential patients. Connecticut's Hartford Hospital, one of the main trauma centers in the Northeast, was prepared to discharge as many as 80 percent of its 820 patients to make room for disaster victims, a spokesman said.

Maryland hospitals had not been called upon by late yesterday to treat people injured at the Pentagon, though the state's trauma system is prepared to receive patients if the need arises.

Sun staff writers Gady Epstein, Michael Stroh and Scott Calvert and wire services contributed to this article.