State medical team tours field hospitals in Harvey’s flood zone

A helicopter sits on tarmac in Beaumont after it flew state medical and military leaders there to assess the health needs of people in Harvey's flood zone on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)
A helicopter sits on tarmac in Beaumont after it flew state medical and military leaders there to assess the health needs of people in Harvey's flood zone on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)

HOUSTON, Texas (KXAN) — Tending to the medical needs of hurricane survivors is an immense undertaking, and the Texas National Guard is playing a crucial role in treating patients.

On Sunday, some of the state’s top medical personnel flew from Camp Mabry into the flood zone to assess how crews are performing.

The party included Col. Craig Manifold, Chief Medical Officer for the Texas National Guard and a disaster response expert. Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith was among a number of state officials on the tour.

The first stop was Katy High School just west of Houston. The whole building has transformed into the military headquarters for this operation.

Throughout the halls of this vast campus, hundreds of U.S. military personnel can be seen performing various tasks. The heart of the operation is the command center, where dozens of senior officers direct forces in every affected county.

Military personnel gather at one of the many field hospitals assembled to treat Harvey victims as state medical teams assess the scope of the need on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017 in Southeast Texas. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)
Military personnel gather at one of the many field hospitals assembled to treat Harvey victims as a state medical team assesses the scope of the need on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017 in Southeast Texas. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)

They say there are no “unmet needs” now. But they are concerned about fatigue among troops and first responders.

The operation inside a warehouse at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport was prepared to take in many of the 3,800 patients at Houston’s Texas Medical Center had hospitals there flooded out. But it wasn’t necessary.

“We already know how to handle hundreds. But this was if indeed we had had thousands,” said Col. Connie McNabb with the Texas State Guard. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime, everyone coming together to make a huge difference and save innumerable lives.”

Between Houston and Beaumont, the scope of the flooding is jaw-dropping from the air. It will be many days before the waters recede.

Back on the ground, medevac helicopters dot the tarmac at Beaumont’s airport.

Nearby is another field hospital, treating more patients. And a big concern there is tetanus and mosquito bites.

The risk of infection is extremely high because of the filthy floodwaters many of these patients have been exposed to. It’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can carry viruses like West Nile and Zika.

A view of flooded areas as a Black Hawk helicopters carrying state medical teams passes overhead as they travel there to assess health needs on the ground on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)
A view of flooded areas as a Black Hawk helicopter carrying a state medical team passes overhead as they travel there to assess health needs on the ground on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (KXAN Photo: Andrew Choat)

“Our staff continually go through preparedness exercises. And it was great seeing them mobilize in conjunction with the military and state operations command center,” said Charles Smith, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner.

Another state official told KXAN that officials had expected to see at least 200 deaths. Sunday night, the number reached 50.

There is overall agreement among the state hierarchy, this operation has been massive — and a success.

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