For the second time this week, nurses and other healthcare workers in a community had to help out in a jarring, widespread emergency.
An explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, caused massive damage and many injuries. An unknown number of fatalities were among the casualties; West Mayor Tommy Muska said Thursday afternoon that as many as 40 people may have died, including 10 emergency personnel, according to the Wall Street Journal, although other reports estimated the death count at about 15. Rescue workers continued to comb the rubble of the surrounding area in the hope of finding survivors.
The West Rest Haven nursing home is located near the fertilizer plant. Shortly before the explosion, a fire at the plant forced staff to begin evacuating the 133 residents from the nursing home, according to reports. Whether all residents and staff made it out before the blast caused substantial damage to the facility was not certain as of Thursday afternoon.
Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in nearby Waco said it treated 101 patients and admitted 28, including 10 to 12 in critical condition. Two patients remained in critical condition as of Thursday afternoon. Injuries included skull and leg fractures and large abrasions, according to NBC News.
Glenn Robinson, CEO of Hillcrest Baptist, said the hospital bolstered its ED staff with more than 250 off-duty nurses and physicians who responded to a call for assistance. To deal with minor injuries, staff set up a triage center at a nearby high school football field.
“The injuries that we are seeing are very serious,” Robinson said at a news conference Thursday morning. “There are a number of patients that will be going to surgery.”
Providence Hospital in Waco received 56 patients, many with lacerations and broken bones and some in respiratory distress, apparently because of chemical or smoke inhalation. The hospital reported Thursday morning that all patients were in stable condition.
Staff at both hospitals have been told more patients may arrive as rescue workers search for survivors.
The most severe injuries might not have been as unusual as those suffered Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where two bombs exploded. First responders and hospital staff at that scene had to treat patients for severed limbs and shrapnel, such as nails and ball bearings, that might have been built into the bombs
While the explosions in Boston took place in the vicinity of eight hospitals, allowing emergency services personnel to spread out the patient load, West, a town of 2,800, did not have nearly the same healthcare infrastructure.
The two hospitals in Waco, which took most of the patients, were more than 15 miles away. Some ambulances drove an hour to reach the scene of the blast, Robinson said. Six helicopters were deployed to transport patients to Hillcrest Baptist.