La. doctor recalls Katrina, hospital conditions

Published 12:58 am Monday, July 21, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Trapped in a hospital with 2,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Anna Pou recalls her throat burning from the rancid smell.

Toilets had backed up and temperatures in the eight-story building reached almost 110 degrees because the windows didn’t open. Power had failed, levees broke and 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, including the hospital basement where the generators were.

It was completely dark at night. Stories of murders, gangs raping women and children circulated through Memorial Medical Center, where the people, including more than 200 patients, feared for their lives.

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Pou, the doctor accused — and later cleared — of giving lethal doses of drugs to four patients during the chaos recalled the four days of misery in a recent interview with The Associated Press. It was her most detailed account of the scene where 34 patients died since the storm three years ago.

‘‘You can’t really understand what it was like if you weren’t there,’’ Pou said. ‘‘Nothing can describe it.’’

It began as a typical weekend for Pou, who wasn’t worried when she made her way to Memorial in August 2005.

Hurricane Katrina appeared headed to Florida. Even when warnings were issued for New Orleans, the respected cancer surgeon never thought of leaving. She stayed with her patients in what would become a personal and professional hell.

After the storm passed Monday, Aug. 29, it seemed the decision not to evacuate patients and staff was a good one. They didn’t know levees were collapsing.

‘‘We made it through the storm pretty good,’’ Pou remembered. ‘‘On Monday, it was just a little hot, but we had some generators working and food and water twice a day.’’

By Tuesday, water was rising in the streets, eventually reaching 10 feet. The hospital basement flooded and the generators failed.