NEW YORK — Outside NYU’s Langone Medical Center on 30th Street near the East River, Kunyung Hylee watched as her 22-year-old daughter, suffering from a brain injury, was carted into an ambulance. They had been trapped inside the hospital in the dark for 13 hours, after a backup generator at the hospital unexpectedly failed. The building shook all night, she said.
Hurricane Sandy wiped out power for the thousands of patients at the hospital. The most critical patients, like infants in the neonatal ICU, were transferred to other hospitals first, on Monday evening. By 11 a.m. on Tuesday, some patients—reportedly the last wave—were still inside. Forty or so ambulances, all full with drivers and paramedics, lined up on the streets surrounding the hospital.
“We’re very scared,” said Hylee, as paramedics loaded her daughter, Jenny Lee, into the back of an ambulance. Her daughter, who she said was suffering from memory problems due to a brain hemorrhage, had been in the hospital for two weeks. Hylee wasn’t sure what hospital they were headed to.
The same uncertainty held a block over, where two paramedics who had been called in from Detroit and Indianapolis lingered by their ambulances, wet from the intermittent downpours. They had been on the job, driving around all night, having transferred patients to every hospital in the area. They thought that at this point most patients had been evacuated, and that this job, at least, was almost done. But they didn’t know for sure—and didn’t expect to be finished working anytime soon.
A police officer directing traffic in front of the row of ambulances thought the same—that almost all the patients should have been evacuated soon. But she wasn’t sure.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg said at a news conference that the evacuation was nearly complete.
Inside the hospital’s large main entrance hall (which I was kicked out of after about 10 minutes), a patient was slowly wheeled out, where she was evaluated and eventually brought out to an ambulance for a transfer. Every three minutes or so, another patient was brought through.
A group of hospital staff huddled in a corner, checking their cell phones. How to get home to Long Island, one decided, wasn’t a struggle even worth thinking about yet.
On the other end of the hall, a group of nurses sat looking exhausted. Indeed, as a doctor who was on scene last night told CBS Tuesday morning, doctors and nurses carried patients who weren’t able to walk down as many as 17 flights of stairs. “It’s been a very long night,” one nurse said.