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Texas hospitals forced to evacuate, clear toilets with trash bags amid water failure

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At least two hospitals in Austin, Texas were left without water and heat on Tuesday night — forcing patients and staff to transport human waste in trash bags and refrain from showering or even washing their hands.

The dire situation, happening amid a historic winter storm that has caused widespread power outages in the state, forced evacuations at both St. David’s South Austin Medical Center and Dell Children’s Medical Center, according to local reports.

Ambulances were seen Tuesday night lining up outside St. David to transport vulnerable patients after the facility experienced a complete loss of water pressure and heat.

Administrators admitted in a statement to the Austin American Statesman that a “number” of other hospitals in the area were experiencing similar issues.

“Because this is a state-wide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” the statement said.

Patients and families at Dell Children’s Medical Center, meanwhile, were asked not to take showers or wash their hands, and were reportedly instructed to use hand sanitizer after using the restroom. Toilets in the facility were unable to flush for most of the evening, according to KUT Austin.

In a letter obtained by the radio station, Dell Children’s announced that it had lost heat as well, and was resorting to emergency measures.

“We anticipate the temperature in the building will be more difficult to maintain as the temperature drops. We do have a limited supply of fleece blankets available.”

Ambulances line up outside of St. David's South Austin Medical Center in preparation to transport patients in Austin, Texas.
Ambulances line up outside of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in preparation to transport patients.
Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman via AP

At St. David’s a similar situation unfolded Tuesday night, with staff telling KVUE-TV that they had received a notice with instructions to fish human waste out of the facility’s toilets with trash bags and dispose of it using biohazard bags.

A few hours after reports emerged from both hospitals, the entire city of Austin was put under a boil water notice by its water utility.

In a statement, St. David’s said that an incident command team was working with the city to find solutions to the issues the facility is facing.

The hospital has begun passing out water bottles and jugs to patients and employees, who were asked to stay at work after their shifts were finished in order to handle the crisis, according to KUT.

St. David’s has also rescheduled all elective surgeries and cancelled “non-emergent” medical procedures.

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