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Hundreds of Hospital Patients Could be Evacuated

WASHINGTON -- Power outages caused by Hurricane Gustav have forced state officials to transport scores of patients from hospitals and other medical facilities for fear they couldn't survive long without air conditioning.

The state's secretary of Health and Hospitals, Alan Levine, told The Associated Press these patients were critically ill, and a few were from hospital burn units. As of Tuesday evening, none of the patients had died during the recent evacuation. Officials said early Tuesday evening that about 140 had been transferred, and the number grew during the evening.

"Our goal throughout this has been to minimize the loss of life and to protect our folks," he said.

More than 1.4 million power outages have been reported in the South since Hurricane Gustav passed through on Monday.

The state estimated Tuesday that almost 700 patients in a dozen Louisiana hospitals may have to be evacuated over the next three days because the facilities do not have air conditioning.

Officials were also concerned Tuesday that seven nursing homes would have to be evacuated for the same reasons. But generators arrived at the nursing homes later in the day, allowing the residents to stay put, Levine said.

The hospitals and nursing homes decided before the storm not to move the patients because keeping them in the hospital would be safer, Trey Williams, a spokesman for the Louisiana governor's office, said from Baton Rouge.

It was about 85 degrees in the New Orleans area Tuesday with 82 percent humidity, according to the National Weather Service.

A hospital north of Baton Rouge began evacuating its patients after its backup generator failed Tuesday. Lane Regional Medical Center evacuated 56 patients to other hospitals, spokeswoman Julie Madere said late Tuesday.

Before Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday, about 10,000 people were evacuated from hospitals and nursing homes. Six people who were critically ill died during the pre-storm evacuation of natural causes, Levine said.

Stories of nursing home deaths during Hurricane Katrina were widely reported three years ago. Since then state and local officials have paid close attention to the needs of the elderly and critical-care patients.

Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in Hammond, La. contributed to this story.

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