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Bellevue Hospital Evacuated After Two Days on Emergency Generators

By  Julie  Shapiro and Jeff Mays | October 31, 2012 2:32pm | Updated on November 1, 2012 12:21am

KIPS BAY — Bellevue Hospital Center was evacuated Wednesday after running on emergency generators for two days and could be closed for two to three weeks, officials said.

The East Side hospital transferred its most critically ill patients after losing power during Hurricane Sandy's floods, and on Wednesday, Bellevue began moving the roughly 500 patients that remained, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"We learned this morning that Bellevue will now have to be evacuated because of damage it had sustained," Bloomberg said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "We didn't think the damage was that bad, [but] when they got into the basement, they realized there was more damage."

 Bellevue Hospital in Kips Bay.
Bellevue Hospital in Kips Bay.
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Flickr/Rich Pompetti

The hospital's basement was inundated with about 17 million gallons of water, Bloomberg said.

There was 2 1/2 feet of standing water in the basement, which officials called "cavernous." Everything from the hospital's power panels to fuel and water pumps were damaged by the flood.

Alan Aviles, president of the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs Bellevue and the city's other public hospitals, said the hospital was forced to undergo a full evacuation.

They initially believed they would be able to repair below-grade fuel pumps in the basement that fed fuel to generators on the 13th floor. But after pumping out enough water to examine the extent of damage to the fuel pumps, officials made the decision Wednesday morning that they would have to evacuate the premises.

"It became clear that that damage was so extensive that we would be unable to adequately power this building even with additional external generators for quite some time," said Aviles.

Of the 725 patients that were at Bellevue prior to Wednesday morning, approximately 300 remained by 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aviles said. Several ambulances lined up along Bellevue Wednesday afternoon to transport patients to other hospitals. Dozens of National Guard troops marched in to help with the evacuation.

All patients were expected to be relocated by Thursday morning or afternoon, Aviles said.

The patients included 42 inmates being held at Bellevue's psychiatric unit, as well as another 18 inmates in the medical unit.

The hospital's generators were only working intermittently, leaving the lobby dark and the computer systems down. Aviles said none of the hospitals 32 elevators were working.

When the pumps failed, at least 100 Guardsmen created a "human bucket brigade" to bring fuel 13 stories up to the generators, until it became clear it was time to evacuate, Aviles said.

At that point, 200 more Guardsmen were called in to carry some of the critically ill patients down the stairs, some times as far as 18 flights, Aviles said.

Aviles said Bellevue worked with the city, state and the Greater New York Hospital Association to find beds for the evacuated patients. Patients' families will be notified of their new location. All evacuated patients left the hospital with a copy of their medical records, said Aviles.

Coney Island Hospital and New York University's Langone Medical Center were also evacuated following the hurricane. A full evacuation of Coney Island Hospital was completed earlier Wednesday, when the last 200 patients were moved.

The hospital, which is now closed, lost all power after suffering extensive damage to its electrical systems.

There were no storm-related deaths in the hospitals that had to be evacuated, Bloomberg said.

Aviles said Bellevue prepared for the storm, but the surge was stronger than expected, especially given that the hospital sits 20 feet above sea level.

"Here in New York, in terms of a natural disaster, we have not experienced anything on this scale," Aviles said.