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Flood cleanup forces two-week closing of Surrey ER

Firefighters stand outside the emergency entrance at Surrey Memorial Hospital, where massive flooding cause the evacuation of the area earlier on Nov. 19, 2012 in Surrey, B.C.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's busiest emergency room will be closed for a minimum of two weeks due to a cleanup after a construction accident caused a key water main to burst in the facility, officials say.

In the meantime, patients who would normally go to Surrey Memorial Hospital, where the flooding occurred on Monday morning, will be dispatched to 11 other emergency rooms in the Fraser Health region. At the hospital, a mobile medical unit and urgent care centre have been set up.

The flood is also forcing other changes at Surrey Memorial, including the postponing of some elective diagnostic procedures and the closing of a medical imaging area.

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"This is an unprecedented kind of situation for us," said Roy Thorpe-Dorward, spokesman for Fraser Health. The emergency room at Surrey Memorial had 100,000 visits last year.

"The two-week estimate was what we were working towards this afternoon. That is something that could change. It could be longer."

However, he said the ER may be opened incrementally. "We won't reopen until it is completely safe for patients."

He said Fraser Health believes its contingency plans will work.

"Other ERs in the area will be certainly stretched to the limit, but we're confident we will be able to provide the care that people need."

The crisis began early Monday when a construction crew working on a lobby-expansion project at the hospital damaged the primary water main with an excavator, causing a build up of water that eventually burst through a wall and into the ER. Twenty-five patients in the emergency room were relocated to other areas of the hospital.

There was no sewage in the water, said Mr. Thorpe-Dorward, but the liquid came from a pit and was muddy so equipment will have to be cleaned.

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It remains to be seen, however, how much of the equipment will have to be scrapped, said Mr. Thorpe-Dorward. Various medical supplies such as linens, mattresses and reusable medical equipment already have had to be scrapped.

"All of that becomes garbage," he said.

Some of the supplies are regularly reordered so will be easy to replace, but obtaining new equipment could be more complicated, he said.

Mr. Thorpe-Dorward said a number of questions remained unanswered on Tuesday. There is no cost estimate for the damage, clarity of how much will be covered by insurance, or any sense of whether the hospital is considering legal action against the construction firm.

ER staff will be deployed to other areas of the hospital and other emergency rooms while cleanup work proceeds.

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