UConn Health Physician Offers First-Person Account from the Hurricane Zone

Dr. Natalie Moore (middle) is providing relief work on St. John after Hurricane Irma. Moore is the first International Disaster Emergency Medicine Fellow at UConn Health and is also a UConn Masters of Public Health candidate. (Photo provided by Dr. Natalie Moore)

Hurricane Irma and now Hurricane Maria have pummeled the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. More than a week ago, UConn Health’s Dr. Natalie Moore traveled to this devastated area to help with relief work.  The past couple of days she’s been hunkered down in a St. Croix hospital awaiting the impact of Hurricane Maria. Moore is the first International Disaster Emergency Medicine Fellow at UConn Health and is also a UConn Masters of Public Health candidate. She’s providing much needed medical and humanitarian assistance to island residents while also trying to juggle her MPH class responsibilities. Below are some examples of her correspondence with her professor and classmates as she offers a realistic account of  the difficulties she’s facing in the hurricane zone.

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Hurricane Irma decimated homes on St. John. (Photo by Dr. Natalie Moore).

Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 10:54 p.m.

Good evening,
I am so sorry to email you so late but I finally found out today that I am being deployed to St. Croix for Irma relief work. I will be working in the ED there, flying to St. Thomas for relief work and working with the public health department, too (so definitely relates to the MPH!).

I will likely be gone at least 2 weeks but I only have a one-way flight at this point. I have asked some of the other classmates to take good notes for me and I will keep up on the readings.  Also, as for my topic which I am supposed to pick this week, I was going to do rise of opiate abuse as it relates well to the ED. However, I may find a more interesting topic working with the St. Croix Public Health Department!

Please let me know if this is ok. The place I will be staying at this point does not have any power but hopefully they will get power soon!

-Natalie Moore

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UConn Health’s Dr. Natalie Moore is among those providing medical assistance for residents of St. John following Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Dr. Natalie Moore)

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 7:19 p.m.

I have just arrived down here in St. Croix. I have already been recruited by the public health department to go on a 48-hour mission to St. Thomas where the hospital has been shut down. They are without power and communication and they are starting to evacuate. I’ll be doing medical care there and then hopefully coming back to the main hospital on St. Croix which is the only hospital that is open in this entire area to work as an ED doctor.  They are being overwhelmed with accepting patients from St. John and St. Thomas who no longer have standing hospitals.  This coming weekend I will be heading out with another group to St. John.  It certainly is much worse down here than they are showing in the news. Burglars have broken into and robbed ambulances and have been setting victims’ houses on fire, robbing and killing them- completely taking advantage of this devastating situation.

Anyway, I have intermittent internet and am still going to try to call in if I have access tomorrow but I figured I would send you a quick update!

Sincerely,
Natalie Moore​

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Large parts of St. John were without power following Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Dr. Natalie Moore)

Monday, Sept. 18, 2017  10:51 p.m.

Hey all – I just got back from St. John from doing relief work over there.

It has been quite a crazy week. I have been in St. John where St. John rescue FD set up a triage clinic. We had a great team including me, 3 nurses, a medic and an EMT. We saw quite a few patients in Coral Bay who were unable to get to the clinic over on the other side of the island (which itself is demolished) but had a DMAT [Disaster Medical Assistance Team] with quite a few medical providers with them until now.  The government couldn’t really reach Coral Bay where I was so it was all private relief efforts into here. St. Thomas (Schneider) hospital lost its roof during Irma but has set up a make-shift ED and has hemodialysis and what I found out yesterday- 1 OR is up and running. But most of their patients have been sent to us in St. Croix at the hospital I have been working at or to Puerto Rico.

Over the weekend, we got wind of hurricane Maria which is a cat 5 storm coming straight at St. Croix and St. John. I came back here to St. Croix to work at the FJL hospital and that is where I will be bunkered down for the next few days.  (So please watch the storm closely…. it may be another IRMA).  DMAT team has left St. John and VITEMA (VI version of FEMA) has told all of St. John to evacuate as no one will be sending food, water, gas, or supplies any longer. Black hawk helicopters were flying in and out trying to evacuate pts and the Navy has set up 2 ships nearby as a floating hospital. They left today though. Unfortunately, there are really no more surrounding private resources from St. John or St. Thomas so we are reliant on the government (which took quite a while to get supplies in to some areas) and NGOs. IMC (the one I am with) is stationed close in case.

I know the power is being turned off here on island in St. Croix tomorrow at 2 pm in preparation for the storm.   I may have cell service and if I do I will certainly call in…so send the number into class George so I can give updates…which I have a lot of from this week! (If I don’t call, feel free to share any of this).

As of now, I have a flight booked Sept. 26 but depending on where the storm hits, I might not be getting back by then, I fly through PR which is also going to be hit by Maria so all please forgive me if I don’t make it back next week as planned.

Also – I think I might change my topic to being disaster preparedness or relief since I have learned so much on this trip! : )

Hope everyone is well. See you and talk to you when I am back!

-Natal​ie

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Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 12:26 p.m. (cell phone text)

I found a bit of service- 1 bar! Still doing ok. It’s crazy here. Army engineers deemed hospital unsafe and we’re going to be evacuating patients. The navy ships are getting here tonight and DMAT will be here soon with their deployable hospital. I’m not sure if my flight will leave Tuesday but hopefully- I work Friday.  But it’s so interesting being here!