Originally created 09/16/99

Elderly carried to safety



HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Barely a tuft of 103-year-old Antonette Tesauro's white hair poked from beneath her blankets as she waited patiently for her roommate to be rolled onto a stretcher and carried to a safer haven.

Mrs. Tesauro knew she was next.

With Hurricane Floyd looming off the coast, the posh communities that comprise the resort island of Hilton Head were anything but safe.

The most vulnerable -- the elderly and infirm -- were the last to be shuffled inland as paramedics from all over the southeastern United States traveled to the coast in ambulances to evacuate them.

Nearly 100 Rural/Metro ambulances were sent to the coast Tuesday, helping fulfill more than 2,000 requests for ambulance transportation. Rural/Metro officials headquartered their effort in Augusta over the last few days, said spokeswoman Valerie Spratlin.

A short prayer in a convenience store parking lot, thanking God for the opportunity to help people, provided the send-off for paramedic Steve Edwards and EMT Candy Downs, both of Augusta's Rural/Metro.

The pair traveled to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, about 70 miles south of Charleston on the Georgia coast, and met a group of about 15 other medical personnel manning seven ambulances.

The last of the hospital's 125 patients were loaded up by about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier in the day several floors of patients were loaded onto a bus and taken out, and patients who were well enough were discharged, officials said. A few nurses and doctors stocked up on supplies, preparing to brave the storm on the second floor of the hospital.

With sirens blaring and lights flashing, it was on to Hilton Head for the group of EMTs. They barreled over the bridge to the deserted island another 60 miles south, where they began plucking the elderly from their beds.

Plastic bags full of prescription bottles lined the hallway at Preston Health Center, where 21 residents waited in their beds to be transported to other facilities in Georgia and South Carolina.

Jane Frackelton moaned a "no" when EMTs tried to move her to a stretcher, while nurse Karen Blevins assured her she would be fine.

Wide-eyed and frightened, the aged and ill were brought out in wheelchairs and on stretchers one by one, hoisted up and sandwiched together on the rigid seats within the ambulance.

"It's OK," Ms. Blevins said, trying to ease a patient. "Remember, we talked about this? You're going for a ride, but you'll be back."

REACH

Meghan Gourley (706) 823-3227.