Homicide charges were filed against the husband-and-wife owners of a nursing home where 34 elderly patients are believed to have died during Hurricane Katrina, the first major criminal case related to the storm's still rising death toll.
For Louisiana alone, the toll surged by more than half Tuesday to 423, and officials fear the numbers could climb as floodwaters recede and more of the city becomes accessible to search teams. Including deaths in four other states, Katrina's overall death count stood at 659.
"It's the water. Everything is driven by the water," said Lt. Col. Mike Thompson of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Authorities said the toll would have been lower if Salvador and Mable Mangano, owners of the St. Rita's nursing home in town of Chalmette, had heeded warnings to evacuate their patients as Katrina came ashore Aug. 29.
"They are in low land. They had evacuated before. They knew they should have evacuated. They should have used their evacuation plan and moved those patients to safety," Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti said Wednesday on CBS News' The Early Show.
They also turned down an offer from St. Bernard Parish officials who asked if the nursing home wanted help evacuating, he said.
"They were given the opportunity to move. They also had a contract with an ambulance to move the patients. They did not move the patients. And that resulted in a loss of 34 lives," Foti told co-anchor Harry Smith. "These are patients that are in wheelchairs, walkers, and cannot take this type of action and they drowned."
In other developments:President Bush admitted Tuesday the nation needs to find out if it is actually capable of dealing with a terrorist attack or another major disaster, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante. "To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong," the president said.The first commercial flights since the storm hit flew in and out of the New Orleans airport Tuesday, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts, but like the city itself, the planes were virtually empty.Trains are running again, and the first cargo ship was to be unloaded Wednesday.Power is back on in nearly half the city.Engineers are pumping out 6½ billion gallons of floodwater every day. Estimates are the city should dry out by mid October.New Orleans' mayor would like to start allowing residents back into the parts of the city that did not flood as soon as health and environmental authorities say it is safe, and that could begin as soon as Monday, reports Dave Cohen of CBS radio affiliate WWL-AM. The first returnees could number as many as 150,000.Katrina victims are being warned to keep their debt in check while facing huge relocation costs and uncertainty about their income. One credit card issuer, MBNA, acknowledged that some people will take on more debt than they can repay. Visa USA said most banks that issue Visa cards are expected to offer more lenient terms to hurricane victims.
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