HOUMA, La. (AP) — The wind ripped chunks off the hospital’s roof and the entire building rumbled. One nurse said the cement pounding into the walls sounded like the loudest bowling alley she could imagine. Another felt like she was inside a meteor shower.
One of the most powerful hurricanes in the nation’s history was barreling into south Louisiana. Fifty miles (80 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans, the staff at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma was already weary from a year and a half of caring for patients with COVID-19.
Now water was pouring from the ceiling tiles. A giant metal beam tore off the building and thumped into a glass door, over and over, like a battering ram. The medical staff prepared to keep patients on ventilators alive by hand if the worst were to happen.
Hurricane Ida was colliding with the country’s out-of-control pandemic. Hospitals facing a Category 4 storm typically either evacuate or discharge as many patients as possible. But this time, amid the community’s fourth, brutal surge of COVID, many of Chabert Medical Center’s patients were too sick to be sent home. And hospitals that lay outside the hurricane’s most destructive path were too full of COVID patients to absorb any more. So here they stayed — nurses, doctors, paramedics — exhausted from battling one catastrophe, watching through the windows as a second one tore into town with 150 mph (240 kph) winds.