The roof of Carroll County General Hospital's emergency room leaked in a sudden heavy downpour yesterday, flooding it and limiting the number of patients it could handle.
Five people injured in a traffic accident about the same time the storm hit were taken to a hospital in Gettysburg, Pa., because of the flooding at Carroll County General, officials said.
"There can't be anything much worse than an emergency room out of commission," said Dr. Michael Stang, director of emergency medicine there since 1986. "For the first time since I have been here, we have had to go to an alternate system.
"We make plans for external disaster situations, but now we have an internal one. Although we didn't foresee an internal disaster of this magnitude, we are well prepared."
Westminster was inundated by 3.58 inches of rain in about three hours yesterday afternoon, including more than 2 1/2 inches that fell in 45 minutes. The hospital appeared to be the only building seriously affected, said Debbie Burk, a shift supervisor at the Carroll County Emergency Operations Center.
About 2 p.m., the emergency room staff noticed water leaking from several places in the ceiling and immediately evacuated about a dozen patients to the nearby ambulatory surgery center, Dr. Stang said.
Within minutes, water was several inches deep on the emergency room floor, officials said.
"The emergency system is functioning and all patients are well cared for," Dr. Stang said later. "While there is a slight increase in wait time, there is no decrease in service."
Nevertheless, the hospital went on "bypass" status with the Carroll County Emergency Operations Center for several hours while volunteer firefighters worked to pump out the water and dry out the emergency room.
"We will still take emergencies but have requested where possible that they [ambulances] go to another hospital nearby," said Joan Hoff, the emergency room's clinical manager. "We are open and in full operation, but in temporary space."
She said it might be a week before the flooded area could be reopened.
In the meantime, the ambulatory surgery center will function as the hospital's emergency room, said Pam Branbeck, a shift coordinator at the hospital.
Eight emergency units and about 45 firefighters from the Westminster and Reese volunteer fire companies were dispatched to the hospital, said Westminster's Lt. Mike Stoner. At 4:30 p.m., needing more pumps, the crews called in Pleasant Valley firefighters.
With the emergency room closed, the hospital diverted the five people seriously injured in a car accident to Gettysburg Memorial Hospital in Pennsylvania.
The accident, which police said occurred just as the storm was beginning but was not caused by the rain, involved a 1990 Plymouth Voyager traveling south on Harney Road near Stone Lane that veered across the center line and collided with a 1987 Buick Century, state police in Westminster said.
While troopers were handling the accident, electrical interference from the storm caused the Westminster barracks to lose radio contact with them temporarily, a dispatcher said.
The severe weather also prompted a helicopter crew called to transport one victim to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center to turn around, a systems communications dispatcher at the center said.
Injured in the accident were the driver and a passenger in the Voyager, Floyd Dale Chenoweth, 68, and Norma Estelle Chenoweth, 67, both of the 8000 block of High Point Road in Parkville. Mr. Chenoweth told police he thought he had fallen asleep while driving, according to the police report.
Injured in the Buick were the driver, Deborah Ann Crawford, 38, of Sterling, Va., and passengers Kathy Elizabeth Crawford, 8, and Evie June Crawford, 15.
Police said the storm contributed to numerous other accidents, including one on Woodbine Road near the Carroll County-Howard County line and another in front of the Taneytown Pizza Hut.
Several roads were closed temporarily because of heavy flooding, including Green Street in downtown Westminster from
Route 32 to Center Street, Spring Mills Road off Route 27 and Nicodemus Road east of Route 97.
At Carroll County General, Dr. Stang said he hoped the emergency room staff had salvaged the equipment, including X-ray and electro cardiogram machines, monitors and suctions.
"We were able to get most of the portable items out quickly," he said. "The rest is covered. All the machines will have to be tested before they are reused."
Hospital linen was used to soak up water.
Dr. Stang said the leaks might have originated in the construction area where the hospital's emergency wing is being expanded.
In addition, he said, "it's an old roof with periodic minor leaks, just what you would expect in a 14-year-old building."
Dr. Stang said no other area of the hospital had water problems.
"It's a flat roof, and the water accumulated on it," said Bob Cumberland, public information officer for the Westminster fire company. "We have a combination of heavy rain and ongoing construction" as possible causes.
Hospital workers used water vacuums and mops, moved as much equipment as they could and saved supplies from the water. The electricity was turned off as a safety measure.
Firefighters opened a drain on the roof to get rid of some of the water. About a dozen men worked on the roof with submersible pumps, squeegees, mops and brooms, "anything that would move water," Mr. Cumberland said.
"We might have to cut more holes in the roof," he said as the rain fell.
Amid the noise and confusion, Marsha McVicker, the registrar, processed emergency patients, who walked tentatively through the puddles and drips.
"The computers are down, so I have to do everything by hand," she said. "It takes twice as long, but we are getting it done."
Joanne Canale, a registered nurse, came in on her day off.
"Let me just get dry, then tell me where you want me," she said. "I thought there might be problems because they were working on the roof."
Dr. Stang praised "the tremendous response from the staff as well as community services." Many nurses remained on duty long after their shifts ended.
"I'll work until I get tired," said Pam Phillips, a nursing technician who worked the day shift and volunteered to stay all night.
Ms. Canale said she expected emergencies to continue. On her way to the hospital, she saw several accidents and flooding.
"Roads are closed and cars are stopped everywhere off Route 140," she said.