NEW ORLEANS – Search teams found more than 40 bodies, many of them elderly patients, inside a hospital flooded out by Hurricane Katrina (search), officials said Monday.
Many of the patients died while waiting to be evacuated over the four days after the storm hit, as temperatures inside Memorial Medical Center (search) rose to 106 degrees, said Dave Goodson, assistant administrator at the hospital, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp.
Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini said some of those found Sunday had died before the hurricane hit, and none of the deaths resulted from lack of food, water or electricity to power medical equipment.
Many of the patients were seriously ill, Campanini said.
Food and water had been rationed during the crisis, but there was still enough for several more days by the time patients were airlifted out on Sept. 2, said Rene Goux, the hospital's chief executive, who was there throughout the storm and its aftermath.
The 317-bed hospital was still partially surrounded by floodwaters Monday.
The bodies were recovered Sunday, but the exact number remained unclear. Bob Johannesen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, said 45 patients had been found; Goodson said there were 44, plus three people found dead on the hospital grounds.
Dr. Jeffrey Kochan, a Philadelphia radiologist volunteering in New Orleans, spoke with the recovery team late Sunday after they had found 36 bodies floating on the first floor.
"They're seeing things no human being should have to see," Kochan said.
Police Chief Eddie Compass (search) declined to answer questions Monday about the discovery, including whether police received any calls for assistance from inside Memorial Medical Center after the hospital was evacuated.
A spokeswoman for Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Sally Foreman, said the city knew there were people in hospitals who needed to be evacuated. The city's first priority had been to evacuate patients in critical care units.
Louisiana's official death toll rose to 279 on Monday, up from 197 on Sunday, said Johannesen said.
As workers removed bodies Sunday from the hospital, in the city's Uptown section, reporters were kept at a distance. A white refrigerated truck carried remains away with federal police escort.
The disturbing discovery was just the latest from a medical or health care facility in the region.
A recovery team found eight bodies inside Bethany Home, an assisted-living center near City Park, on Saturday. On Monday, mortuary workers removed human remains from Lafon Nursing Home of the Holy Family.
One side of entrance to Lafon was spray-painted with the date "9-2" and the words "59 live" and "16 dead"; the other side was spray-painted "9-9" and "14 dead."
Georgia and Missouri police standing guard would not say how many bodies had been recovered.
Inside the nursing home, the pale-brown water mark on the first floor came up about two and a half feet. Three hospital-size beds had been pushed into the small lobby. On the second floor, spray-paint markings in a hall indicated where bodies had been found.