Isle medics help
while stranded

The workers are now aiding
the injured in New Orleans
at a police command post

Four Honolulu emergency medical workers who have been stranded in New Orleans arrived at a shelter for emergency responders late last night, where they had their first hot meal in days.


Melinda Shiraki: She and her group are at a shelter for emergency responders

The day did not start well for paramedics Melinda Shiraki, Doreen Kitagawa and Jill Takayama and emergency medical technician Rochel Ortiz. The skeleton staff that remained to operate their hotel near the French Quarter told the guests they were leaving because the generators were running out of fuel.

The women called their boss in Honolulu, city Emergency Medical Services Division Chief Patty Dukes, who said the women were in despair "because now they had to leave a hotel that they felt secure in, and now they were in danger perhaps, and they left not knowing where they were going to end up," she said.

They had reason to fear for their safety. The women witnessed the lawlessness and looting on the streets from their 12th-floor hotel rooms. When one of them had ventured onto the streets earlier to head for a Walgreens, Dukes said a police officer at the department store instructed her to go in and help herself.

Yesterday's situation compounded their disappointment of the day before. Believing they were about to catch buses out of the city, they gave away whatever food they had.

"I think they came into contact with a family that had some young children," said Dr. Elizabeth Char, city Department of Emergency Services director. "And as I understand it, those kids hadn't had anything to eat or drink for quite some time."

But the buses never arrived.

About an hour and a half after letting Dukes know they were leaving the hotel, they called back to inform her that they were at a police command post set up in one of the city's two Harrah's Casinos.

They had flagged down a police officer and told them they were emergency medical workers. Police confirmed their identities and qualifications with a New Orleans emergency medical services official.

"All the millions of people that he'd probably seen on the street that had a story to tell, he listened to them," Dukes said, "and so Capt. Weatherby, wherever he is, is our hero."

There was drinking water at the command post but no food.

New Orleans officials put the women to work treating patients at the command center, and Honolulu officials put the women on the payroll. They had gone to New Orleans on vacation to attend the annual meeting of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

"They're helping to the best of their abilities to treat these patients and people that are injured, and we're just grateful that they're safe," Char said.

At the end of their day, the women called Dukes again and told her they would be sleeping on the ground, under the stars outside the casino, surrounded by armed police officers.

"They're camping out in a safe zone," Dukes said.

But the casino was not as safe a zone as police had hoped.

"There apparently was some shooting near the command post where they were treating ill and injured people," so police moved the woman to a shelter for emergency responders, Char said.

But Honolulu city officials said they still do not know when the four women will return to the island.

| | |
E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com