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Victims, Volunteers Flood Area Medical Centers

Oklahoman Published: May 4, 1999
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Outside Hillcrest Medical Center, sirens wailed as ambulances kept arriving Monday night.

Frazzled medical workers helped old men and women, heads and knees covered with bandages, into wheelchairs. Nurses and doctors rolled bloodied babies and young children inside on stretchers.

As the television boomed with reports of deadly tornadoes, Tony Lawson sat in the emergency room -- sweat and shock covering his face.

"Luckily, it just went over our house, but it took our daughter's house," Lawson, 39, said.

Lawson found his daughter, grandson and a friend amid the remains of their destroyed home. He rushed them to the hospital and wasn't sure how badly they were injured.

"All I know is they were in the house that's gone," he said.

The scene was repeated Monday night at hospitals throughout the Oklahoma City area. At least nine were confirmed dead by hospitals, and more than 350 patients were treated.

Area hospitals jumped to "code black" and a disaster mode during the chaos of the multiple tornadoes.

Southwest Medical Center reported more than 75 injuries and four fatalities. Midwest Regional Medical Center reported two fatalities, and more than 75 patients with minor to severe injuries. Patients varied in age from 1 to 98. Baptist Medical Center reported nine minor injuries, including eight from gas fumes and a head injury.

Norman Regional Hospital spokesman Grant Farrimond confirmed one fatality and said at least 50 patients were admitted by late Monday. Flying glass accounted for many of the injuries, he said.

At Hillcrest Health Center, 2129 SW 59, more than 150 patients were crowded into the emergency room, outpatient surgery, inpatient surgery unit -- even the cafeteria. At least two fatalities were confirmed, and hospital officials said there could be more.

Integris Southwest Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said, was "full ... with a lot of head and neck injuries."

"We were ready to accept mass casualties," said a spokesman for Integris Southwest and Integris Baptist Medical Center, which called in more than 400 extra staff members to take casualty overflows from other hospitals if needed.

Trucks with makeshift gurneys, ambulances and medical flights overwhelmed the emergency room at Midwest City Regional Medical Center as hospital workers struggled to organize the chaos. Victims and volunteers inundated the hospital.

Air Force Pilot Jonathan Clements' son, Dejean, 4, was among the dozens treated at Midwest City Regional.

Clements had cradled Dejean as the tornado roared over their home on Tinker Air Force Base. But later, as natural gas fumes settled over the base, Dejean became dizzy and started vomiting. At Midwest City Regional, paramedics gave Dejean oxygen, and he later left the hospital dazed but uninjured.

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