Rx for hurricane survivors | VailDaily.com

Rx for hurricane survivors

Alex Miller

Special to the DailyA survivor of Hurricane Katrina hunkers down in a seat high above the floor of the Astrodome in Houston and sleeps while other victims of the hurricane from New Orleans rest on cots on the floor of the sports arena on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

HOUSTON – Arnold Sorocki left his home in Edwards Sept. 1 to join the massive relief effort launched in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With the Houston Astrodome complex the destination of an estimated 150,000 evacuees from the New Orleans and Gulf Port areas, Sorocki found himself on the front line of one of the biggest emergency efforts in U.S. history. Sorocki, a pharmacist with the Vail Valley Medical Center, journeyed to Houston as part of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The team operates under the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, one of 41 throughout the country that train for such situations.

“DMAT is what the call it, and we respond to any kind of natural disaster that has a medical component,” Sorocki said, speaking via cell phone from a hotel in Houston. “There’s another team I’m part of that’s more geared toward responding to weapons of mass destruction.”The team is comprised of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, paramedics and support workers, Sorocki said. Based out of Denver, they are ready to roll on a moment’s notice with 10 trucks full of material – including four pallets of drugs. Because most of the hurricane victims were, for the most party, healthy, Sorocki said there wasn’t as great a need for the kind of emergency triage the team is able to provide. “The role was much less than we would normally assume,” he said. “Usually we’d do more in a mass casualty situation; it’s what we mostly train for.”What the team did help with, Sorocki said, was screening people as they arrived off buses from the stricken areas. Some of them had been on the buses for two or three days, he said. After they were checked by police for any weapons, the Colorado emergency team members were the first people evacuees saw.

“On the first day, we screened 5,000-6,000 people,” Sorocki said. “We actually looked at everyone who entered the state of Texas.”That meant finding out what kind of medical needs each person had and sending them to the appropriate area or to a nearby hospital, he said.Sorocki said he was working seven days a week in 12-hour shifts. He also said he was looking forward to returning to Eagle County after the withering heat and humidity of Houston. With the number of evacuees down to under 5,000, he said the situation at the Astrodome complex has stabilized, and he planned to be home Wednesday.

“It was worthwhile,” Sorcoki said. “We all feel good about what we did, and it’s what we committed to when joined this group. That’s why we’re here.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado