Doctors at two desperately crippled hospitals in New Orleans called The Associated Press pleading for rescue, saying they were nearly out of food and power and had been forced to move patients to higher floors to escape looters.
"We have been trying to call the mayor's office, we have been trying to call the governor's office ... we have tried to use any inside pressure we can. We are turning to you. Please help us," said Dr. Norman McSwain on Thursday, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital, the larger of two public hospitals.
Charity Hospital is across the street from Tulane University Medical Center, a private facility that has almost completed evacuating more than 1,000 patients and family members, he said.
No such public resources are available for Charity, which has about 250 patients, or University Hospital several blocks away, which has about 110 patients. Tulane's heliport is available if patients from the public hospitals could be brought there, McSwain said.
"We need coordinated help from the government," he said.
Later Thursday, one of the hospital's doctors told CNN that a sniper had opened fire outside Charity as National Guard vehicles prepared to evacuate patients. After waiting all day, hospital officials loaded some people onto boats, but some were returning because transportation anticipated at higher ground wasn't available, according to Dr. Ruth Berggren.
Doctors worked especially hard to evacuate one patient who was gravely ill.
"He was sitting on that boat that came back, leaning over the edge and vomiting, and my heart just breaks for him because I think he just feels terrible," Berggren told CNN.
Elsewhere, helicopters hauled hundreds of patients from other New Orleans-area hospitals Thursday, but more than 1,000 people still awaited rescue, according to the AP.
Helicopter crews evacuated 400 to 600 patients Thursday, but 1,000 or 1,500 others remained, said Richard Zuschlag, president and CEO of Acadian Ambulance Service.
Earlier, McSwain described horrific conditions in his hospital.
"There is no food in Charity Hospital. They're eating fruit bowl punch and that's all they've got to eat. There's minimal water," McSwain said.
"Most of their power is out. Much of the hospital is dark. The ICU (intensive care unit) is on the 12th floor, so the physicians and nurses are having to walk up floors to see the patients."
Throughout New Orleans, the death, destruction and depravity deepened even as the hurricane waters leveled off.