Nursing Home Owners Charged

Members of a disaster morgue team work at St. Rita's Nursing Home, Friday, Sept. 9, 2005, in Chalmette, La. where they continue extracting bodies found Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Bryan Patucci, coroner of St. Bernard Parish, said the nursing home staff apparently believed it was more dangerous to move the residents than keep them at the building. He said it may be impossible to identify all the victims until authorities compile a final list of missing persons. AP

The husband-and-wife owners of a New Orleans-area nursing home where 34 people died in Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters were charged Tuesday with negligent homicide.

The case represents the first major prosecution to come out of the disaster in New Orleans.

The owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in the town of Chalmette "were asked if they wanted to move (the patients). They did not. They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming. In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these patients," Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti said.

Salvador A. Mangano and his wife, Mable, surrendered and were jailed on 34 counts of negligent homicide. Each count carries up to five years in prison.

The attorney general said he is also investigating the discovery of more than 40 corpses at flooded-out Memorial Medical Center, in New Orleans' Uptown section.

The Manganos had an evacuation plan as required under state law and a contract with an ambulance service to evacuate the patients, but they did not call the company, Foti said. They also turned down an offer from St. Bernard Parish officials who asked if the nursing home wanted help evacuating, he said.

Foti said the bodies have not all been identified and he was not sure how many of the victims were patients or staff.

In other news, President Bush Tuesday took responsibility for government failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Mr. Bush said at joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq. "And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

More grim news came Tuesday, as Hurricane Katrina's death toll in Louisiana climbed to 423 Tuesday, up from 279 a day before, the state Health Department said.

The jump came as recovery workers turned more and more of their attention to gathering up and counting the corpses in a city all but cleared out of the living.

How high the death toll might go is unclear.

Mayor Ray Nagin said earlier this month that Louisiana could have 10,000 dead. But a street-by-street sweep of the city last week yielded far fewer bodies than feared, and authorities said the death toll could be well below the dire projections.

Up until the past few days, authorities were slow to release numbers, saying they were concentrating on rescuing the living first. Rescuers reported pushing corpses aside, or tying them down to banisters or roofs for workers to collect later.

In other developments:

  • The new acting head of FEMA, R. David Paulison, pledged Tuesday to intensify efforts to finding more permanent housing for the tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors now in shelters. "We're going to get people out of the shelters, we're going to move on and get them the help they need," he said. Paulison has three decades of firefighting experience and a background in emergency management.

  • The New Orleans airport reopened on a limited basis Tuesday, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman, with three passenger flights arriving and three departing each day.

  • Mississippi landlords were being told strongly that they can't evict people just to rent to someone else for more money, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Frank. With tens of thousands of people having no place left to live, county judges are trying to make sure renters are not pushed out.

  • The port of New Orleans expected the arrival late Tuesday of its first cargo ship since the hurricane, and at least three more ships by week's end, said Gary LaGrange, port president and chief executive. The arriving ship was carrying up to 500 containers of coffee and wood products from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, LaGrange said.
    • Scott Benjamin

    Comments