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Full Extent of Disaster Will Unfold Over Time, Doctors Say

More than 1,000 victims of the World Trade Center attack were taken to New York City hospitals, stretching resources to the limit, and that includes up to this hour. CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin is at New York University Medical Center for us tonight.

Ambulances and police emergency vehicles continue to stream by here as they have been doing all day, but it really could be days before we know the exact number of injured and dead, and that means more grueling days of work for area hospitals, doctors, and nurses. Now nearly all the hospitals in the region were instantaneously transformed into trauma centers, with every bit of space being used for patient care. As hard as it is to imagine that this could ever happen, hospitals here say that they were prepared for it.

By evening, the numbers of injured were stacking up at New York City hospitals: 140 at Bellevue, and more than 300 at St. Vincent's. The most serious cases carried by dust-covered ambulances to whatever emergency centers could take them. Several people had burns that covered most of their bodies and faces. Some people came in cardiac arrest.

Bellevue, one of the city's largest trauma centers, treated injured when the World Trade towers were bombed back in 1993. Today it was déjà vu. Patients here were treated for burns and smoke inhalation, head injuries, and broken bones.

Dr. Robert Hessler, from Bellevue Hospital, said, "They actually extricated one guy that had his legs amputated." He said that the amount of patients and the extent of injuries can't really be predicted.

It was also déjà vu for Marlene Cruise, who was at work the day that the World Trade towers were bombed, and now this. He was in an elevator that plummeted when the plane hit the building. "I was screaming because I didn't know what the hell was going on. I had all of the debris, concrete and everything fall on top, you know, so I wasn't sure."

Doctors speculate that they are just beginning to see the extent of death and injury. There will be much more to come in the days ahead. Even emergency medical people trained for this type of thing can't believe that it is happening.

"It's, it's an unbelievable thing. You keep thinking that you are about to wake up and it was all just a nightmare and it really isn't real. I mean, it's just so unbelievable, just what happened," admits Dr. Hessler.

A call for blood brought out hundreds of donors, too many for the hospital to accommodate. Those turned away are being asked to come back in the following day.

In addition to the physical injuries, another major concern is the psychological wounds, the people who survived all of this, the people who witnessed the unforgettable sight of bodies hurling out of those World Trade tower windows. They will also be included in the numbers of victims and are likely to require medical intervention, possible for years to come.
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