1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN
  2. Jacobson, Joy

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No one was prepared for the magnitude of the disaster, despite sophisticated tracking of the category-5 storm and declarations of states of emergency by state officials two days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29. In a short time Katrina devastated 90,000 square miles, inundated a major American city, and crippled several smaller ones. Much of the Gulf Coast region was without potable water or essential services for many days, hundreds were dead or unaccounted for, and hundreds of thousands were evacuated.


There were tragic public health consequences in New Orleans: an untold number of nursing home residents died after waiting days for help; several infants died of heat exhaustion while awaiting evacuation; contaminated floodwaters harbored Vibrio vulnificus, resulting in several deaths, as well as Escherichia coli and toxic levels of lead and other chemicals. And in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, relief workers were overcome by the vastness of the devastation, where entire buildings and infrastructures were obliterated.


But many individuals, including nurses, along the Gulf Coast and across the country began forming a new prototype of American heroism. Good examples are the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses at two facilities, Lafayette General Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the Children's Hospital of New Orleans. Sylvia Oats, nurse administrator at the Lafayette hospital, told National Public Radio on September 3 that not only had the NICU received eight infants from Children's Hospital, but the nurses there were housing the New Orleans nurses caring for the infants, as well as the babies' parents. "The [New Orleans] nurses brought babies to us and wanted to stay," Oats said, so her facility has hired them as temporary staff. She described her nursing staff as "very desperate" to help. (For an account of Mississippi nurses who helped set up a displaced-persons center, see Profiles, page 102.)


In New Orleans, Charity Hospital and Tulane Medical Center, two of the largest hospitals flooded, were without power or running water and had to be evacuated; Ochsner Medical Center, situated on higher ground, fared a little better, but it, too, was operating without power, as were many in other areas along the Gulf Coast. Nurses, physicians, and other hospital workers, most of whom lost homes in the flood, stayed until all patients were evacuated. Hospitals in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas took in countless people.


AJN will continue to examine the many ramifications of this disaster, for nursing, public health, and the health care system as a whole.

FIGURE. Darlene Hump... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Darlene Humphrey, foreground center, a nurse with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana, tends to one of the patients evacuated by the Missouri Air National Guard from a hospital in New Orleans to Alexandria on September 1.
FIGURE. Hurricane Ka... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Hurricane Katrina victim Alysa Blackwell, 18 days old and born eight weeks premature, and her nurse, Melanie Perkins, September 7, at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alysa was one of 87 infants evacuated to Woman's Hospital from New Orleans hospitals.