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Rescuers dig, doctors tend wounds, everyone hopes

A survivor of the World Trade Center attacks receives emergency medical treatment.  

(CNN) -- As rescue crews worked to find survivors amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center complex in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, area hospitals prepared to accept more victims of Tuesday’s terror attack. Employees were called in to work overtime and set up triage centers to tend to the wounded and dying.

“We are ready for what we hope will be additional survivors today,” said Mark Ackermann of St. Vincent’s Catholic Hospital, the trauma center closest to the site of the devastated World Trade Center.

St. Vincent’s had accepted 369 patients since the attack, hospital officials said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Ninety-five had been admitted, they said. Four patients have died.

Washington-area hospitals have seen far fewer patients. More than 70 people were brought in in the aftermath of the plane crash at the Pentagon. About 36 remain hospitalized. None of those admitted has died.

In a reflection of the grim rescue situation at the nation’s military nerve center, however, an official at Walter Reed Army Hospital told CNN the facility is preparing to receive up to 200 bodies.

Respiratory problems, abrasions

The majority of patients arriving at New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, particularly rescuers, were suffering respiratory problems from the dust at the attack site. Some also had abrasions on their eyes from the concrete in the dust, or scrapes on their hands from digging through the rubble.

Other injuries required more attention.

“It’s very difficult to see burn patients,” said Dr. Leonard Bakalchuk, who treated survivors at St. Vincent’s late into Tuesday evening. “They're charred, their skin is coming off, in tremendous pain. It’s tremendous suffering.”

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Washington Hospital Center has also treated a number of burn victims.

Michael Kurtz, whose wife sustained burns over 70 percent of her body in the Pentagon attack, said he was shocked by her condition.

“I saw a person who looked like a mummy," he said. "I couldn't recognize her.”

He said he told his wife of 31 years he loved her, then asked her to wiggle her toes. “Her toes wiggled, and that was the end of our conversation. I was so ecstatic ... she heard my voice, so I was happy.”

For other families, though, Tuesday’s attacks left only uncertainty.

“As each hour goes by, families are facing the terrible likelihood that their loved one is dead,” said Dr. Spencer Eth, who directs the behavioral sciences unit at St. Vincent’s in New York.

The hospital has set up a psychiatric center to help survivors and family members of missing people deal with the trauma of Tuesday’s attacks.

City and nation respond

Still, hospital staffs, rescuers and city officials in both New York and Washington found reasons to hope amid the devastation. They put out the call for help, and the communities -- indeed, the nation -- responded.

“The outpouring of volunteers has been tremendous and we're very thankful for that,” New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday.

Nurses and doctors from around the New York have volunteered to help deal with the injured, with hospital staff members coming in on their days off to help handle the volume of victims.

Volunteers across the country lined up to donate blood to help survivors of the terror attacks.  

When rescuers asked for blood, hundreds of people across the country quickly lined up.

Among them was Nancy Conrad. When she heard about New York’s distress, she found a donation center in her native Atlanta, Georgia, and waited to give blood. Two-hundred others also waited.

“It just tore me apart to see what was happening, and I wanted to be there to help, to help the victims,” she said. “But I couldn't do anything, so the least I could do is give blood.”

Burn centers across the United States also geared up to help. At least 2,000 beds in 137 hospitals are available to accept Medivac patients from New York, officials said.

With all the help, though, hospital staffers and rescue crews know that their work will not get any easier.

“I'm just wishing well for everybody that’s down there (at the attack site),” said New York paramedic Egui Gururens. “It’s just a horrible sight. It’s a horrible day.”

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