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Premature babies spared Katrina’s wrath

In what can only be described as a miraculously quick rescue, 27 premature infants were flown from New Orleans hospitals to hospitals from Birmingham, Ala., to Dallas. NBC's Mike Boettcher reports.
/ Source: NBC News correspondent

They couldn't wait to get into this world, but their timing couldn't have been worse.

Inside incubators with “I survived Katrina” signs you find premature babies. Place of birth? New Orleans. Date of birth? The era of Hurricane Katrina.

In what can only be described as a miraculously quick rescue, 27 of them were flown out to hospitals from Birmingham to Dallas. There was no other option. The critical care wards of their New Orleans hospitals were themselves in critical condition, say the rescue teams. 

“You couldn't see a thing,” says flight nurse David Campbell. “You had to carry around flashlights. It smelled like wet dog.”

“There were two nurses on the phone at the desk,” remembers Jason Peterson, a medical transport nurse. “They were obviously distraught. They were crying. Basically, I hugged them and cried with them.”

But spirits quickly turned. The medical staff was not alone. Help for the babies was on the way in the form of helicopter-borne rescuers.

“The whole bottom floor of the hospital was flooded,” says flight nurse Tim Beasley. “When we arrived there was a team of nurses, about 10 nurses standing on top of the building waiting for us to land. And they were just holding babies.”

The rescue happened so quickly that not all the parents know that their babies are safe. 

“Two of the families we are unable to contact at this point,” says Dr. Joe Philips at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital. “We're going to send police to where their houses were.”

But for infants whose lives started hard and got harder, this is “Easy Street” — comfy hospitals in Dallas and Birmingham, with electricity and water.

These children of Katrina have already lived a lifetime — prematurely.