As much of the region hid from yesterday's blinding blizzard, health care providers and those who serve the homeless kicked into high gear to help the helpless deal with the severe conditions.
Homeless shelters were open and filling up. Emergency rooms weren't filling up -- yet -- but patients who came in were sicker than usual, brought in by ambulances that had trouble negotiating local roads. City and state officials called on residents to extend themselves to those in need.
"We are urging people to stay inside. We are also asking folks to call elderly friends and relatives just to check on them," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
The mayor said homeless shelters were staying open 24 hours a day for the time being. Alvin C. Collins, secretary of the state Department of Human Resources, said local Department of Social Services directors would open buildings to shelter people if local executives deemed it necessary.
"We don't have to turn anybody away. There's no such thing," said Vincent Pilgrim, a program supervisor at Christopher Place, a shelter on Eager Street in East Baltimore. "If we have to, [we'll] stick them in the closet, in the bathroom, on the shelf, wherever we have to put them."
Mr. Pilgrim drove from Randallstown yesterday morning to tend to the men in the shelter.
"They have some hot soup and real nice vegetable soup with meat, hot tea and coffee," he said. "They're laid back. Everybody's dressed warm. We've got emergency clothing."
Ann Ciekot, deputy director of the advocacy group Action for the Homeless, said she was pleased with the city and state efforts to make shelter space available.
"They have responded, and we're very glad about that," she said. "The big key is making sure the word gets out to the emergency personnel and the shelter pro
viders that this is available to folks."
At the Johns Hopkins Hospital, workers who braved the snow planned to stay overnight "in empty rooms, empty chairs," said spokeswoman Elaine Freeman. "We're getting along because there's sort of a disaster crew that comes into place."
More than 150 people responded to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's pleas for four-wheel-drive vehicles to ferry in medical staff. A skeleton crew prepared to sleep over at the hospital in vacant beds.
They found far fewer patients than usual. On a typical day, 100 people visit the emergency room, said Dr. Claudius Klimt, head of emergency medicine. Yesterday, only about 40 were thought likely to come in.
"Normally what happens during these times of a large snowstorm is the number of patients is down, and everybody is (( very sick," Dr. Klimt said. "You have pneumonia, strokes, heart attacks. When everybody starts digging out, we get a torrent of people who couldn't get out."
Dr. Klimt cautioned people with heart problems not to try to shovel snow or push cars out of drifts.
"If they're not used to exerting themselves, this is the first exertion in a long time and it puts them over the edge into a heart attack," he said.
He also expected to see accident victims who had been driving four-wheel-drive vehicles.
"Four-wheel drivers think they're hot stuff in this kind of weather because they can go. But guess what -- the brakes don't work any better than on any other car on the road."
Marti Alvaran, a nurse practitioner on call for Health Care for the Homeless, said yesterday afternoon that she had not received many calls from homeless people out in the cold. Most inquiries were routine, and she hoped that pattern would continue.
For anyone who remained on the street, Ms. Alvaran advised getting inside anywhere, for as long as possible. She suggested hospitals and bus stations as possibilities.