TUSCALOOSA, Alabama When the first ambulance pulled up to Tuscaloosa's main hospital after Wednesday's tornadoes, trauma coordinator Andrew Lee opened its doors to a sickening sight: three dead children.
"They were the first people I laid my hands on and I knew then I was about to experience something I have never seen before," said Lee, who works at the DCH hospital, training staff for the storms that regularly spin up in a region that locals call 'Tornado Alley.
"Nobody in their right mind could claim to be prepared for anything like this," he said on Friday.
The ambulance had come from Rosedale, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods and one of the worst hit by the devastating storms.
One of those children, an African-American girl aged about 10 months, remains in the morgue, unclaimed, causing hospital staff to wonder about her family's fate.
"That can't be good. Is her whole family gone?" said DCH communications director Brad Fisher.
Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama, was battered by the swarm of tornadoes that savaged the U.S. South this week, leaving 328 dead, including 228 in Alabama. President Barack Obama viewed the devastation in the city on Friday.
More than 50 children have arrived alone with injuries in the hospital's emergency room since Wednesday and 30 of those were sent on to Birmingham's children's hospital because DCH lacks a pediatric trauma ward, Fisher said.
In all, DCH has seen 600 patients, admitted 100 and had 13 in intensive care.
Most typical are crush injuries from falling debris and trauma as tornado winds slammed bodies into hard objects.
Some of the injured children now also face the trauma and grief of losing parents killed in the storms.
"I checked on a little 6-year-old boy in the hallway who was crying. I asked what was wrong and he said his mommy was dead," Lee said.