LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The woman from Nova Scotia, Canada, who slid into the backseat of Paul Hwangpo’s car got right to the point: Take me to the nearest blood bank.
It was not a typical request for an Uber driver in America’s capital of gambling, all-you-can-eat buffets and spangled entertainment.
But it was no typical day.
It was the morning after 59 people were slain and more than 500 injured in gunfire that rained down on an open-air country music concert near Las Vegas’ strip of neon-lit casinos.
The gunman, identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock who lived in a Nevada retirement home, ended Sunday night’s shooting spree, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, by killing himself.
Hwangpo took the visitor from Nova Scotia to a blood donation place near the medical center where surgeons labored to repair organs battered and bones broken by bullets. She got in line with hundreds of other people who would wait hours to give what they could – a pint from the heart.
“That‘s solidarity,” Hwangpo observed.
The queues outside Las Vegas blood donation centers were a reflection of the city – a place swelled daily by tens of thousands of tourists and conventioneers, all served by legions of immigrants driving cabs, cleaning rooms and tending bar.
Blood bank workers said they met donors from Arizona and California and as far away as China, Japan, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil and Switzerland. Some from Mexico said it was a way to make up for being unable to contribute to the recovery from a disastrous earthquake there two weeks ago, said United Blood Services donor recruiter Laura Alvarado.
To accommodate the outpouring of goodwill, the blood bank organized a pop-up center nearby. The effort began before dawn the morning after the shooting. As their shifts ended at the UMC Trauma Center, hospital workers volunteered to scout a location, settling on a parking lot across the street.
“It started with a couple of tents and a sign-in sheet,” Alvarado said.
By evening, there were two mobile buses, awnings, folding chairs and a steady supply of pizza, donuts and water donated by merchants.
Sal Messina went straight from the airport to a blood donation center.
“As soon as I landed, before the hotel, I told the cab driver, take me here,” said Messina, a security officer and native Italian who flew in from his home in northern California for work meetings.
“It’s the only way you can combat the insanity and evil in the world,” Messina said.
In a typical day, hospitals in the Las Vegas area use about 300 units of blood products, which take a couple of days to test and prepare. In the hours immediately after the shooting, the bank sent 200 units to one hospital alone, UMC Trauma, which received the most critical patients.
“That left a pretty bare shelf,” Alvarado said.
An appeal went out, which usually draws a bump in donations. But, within hours, more than 1,000 people had signed up.
Javier Wong, a restaurant worker who moved to Las Vegas from Panama 25 years ago, waited more than eight hours to give blood. He said he saw it as a way to support the victims the way his adopted home had supported him.
“I‘m giving back,” Wong said.
The need was met by donors who gave up a day of a vacation or a day off work. The Millers, Don and Kimberly, from Chicago, waited in a blood donation line much of the day.
“You don’t feel very much like vacationing when something like this happens,” Kimberly said. “You’ve got to do something.”
As the sun began to go down, Doris Diaz sat in metal folding chairs. They had been there since before lunch and were happy to wait.
Diaz, a retired airport manager who has lived in Las Vegas for 40 years, summed up the scene: “There’s a lot of heart here.”
Reporting by Lisa Girion; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool