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Nursing home owners face charges

Couple charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide

St. Rita's Nursing Home is in the St. Bernard Parish of New Orleans.



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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Hurricane Katrina
Disaster Relief
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- The owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, where 34 people died as Hurricane Katrina hit, have been charged with negligent homicide, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. said Tuesday.

"They did not die of natural causes; they drowned," Foti told reporters. "Thirty-four people drowned in a nursing home where they should have been evacuated."

The attorney general said the home's owners -- Mable and Salvador Mangano Sr., both 65 -- surrendered Tuesday to Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigators in Baton Rouge, where they were charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide and jailed prior to posting bond. Each count carries up to five years in prison.

Jim Cobb, an attorney for the Manganos, told CNN that his clients did not abandon the patients who died. The Manganos stayed in the nursing home through the storm with their children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews, he said.

"We feel we have criminal negligence," Foti said. "They did not follow the standards of care that a reasonable person would follow in a similar circumstance." (Watch the attorney general explain the charges -- 4:23)

He said the owners had plenty of opportunity to move their charges out of the facility. The Manganos were asked if they wanted to evacuate the building and were offered buses; in addition, they had signed last April a contract with Acadian Ambulance to provide transportation in the event an evacuation was needed, Foti said, but "they were never called."

Cobb said the Manganos said they were never told about the mandatory evacuation, and the couple was concerned that had they prematurely moved their patients, many would have died.

Authorities in the parish east of New Orleans began retrieving the bodies of the 34 people from St. Rita's on Wednesday, nine days after the storm hit and a huge storm surge consumed the home.

Foti said it was unclear all 34 bodies were patients, family members or people who had sought refuge in the home.

Between 40 and 50 other people were rescued from the facility, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stevens said has said.

Meanwhile, President Bush on Tuesday said he takes responsibility for the federal government's failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said during a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Bush said he wants to know what went right and what went wrong so that he can determine whether the United States is prepared for another storm, or an attack. (Watch the president's statement -- 1:32)

"I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives," Bush said. (Full story)

Earlier in the day, the White House announced the president will address the nation Thursday night about recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast.

New Orleans may lose 160,000 homes

Katrina and the floodwaters that swept through New Orleans may have damaged 160,000 homes beyond repair, an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday.

Col. Richard Wagenaar said that one of the local government's biggest challenges would be letting residents return to look at their homes.

Water flowed into the city from Lake Pontchartrain through five breaches in three levees after the storm hit August 29, leaving 80 percent of the city submerged. (Watch Wagenaar describe the levee repairs -- 3:34)

Workers should be able to pump the remaining water out of the city by the end of October, said Wagenaar, the New Orleans district commander of the Corps of Engineers.

"Wagenaar said the process would speed up once water recedes around the city's main pumping station -- Pump Station No. 6 -- and its 1920s-era pumps can go back online. That's not expected for another two weeks. (Watch the efforts to pump New Orleans dry -- 2:40)

He said that workers were focusing on making "semi-permanent" repairs to the levee system that protects the low-lying city -- that could take two or three months. More permanent fixes would be made once investigators have determined why the levees failed.

Bodies found in hospital

Rescue workers have removed 45 bodies from a downtown New Orleans hospital that was surrounded by floodwaters from Katrina, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said.

The bodies were recovered Sunday from Memorial Medical Center, spokeswoman Melissa Walker said.

Tenet Healthcare Corp., the company that owns the hospital, said in a statement that "a significant number had passed before the hurricane." (Watch the grim process of recovering victims -- 1:34)

Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini wrote that the hospital was told Wednesday "that we were on our own to evacuate, [and] we brought our own helicopters to take the patients out."

He said, "Every living patient was evacuated by Friday afternoon."

The statement said that once all of the patients were evacuated, officials brought in guards to secure the hospital until the coroner could remove the bodies.

Officials have confirmed 423 deaths in Louisiana in the wake of the hurricane.

Other developments

  • The acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that the agency would focus on getting evacuees out of shelters and into more permanent homes. David Paulison, a 30-year veteran of fire and rescue work, was appointed Monday after Michael Brown resigned. (Watch Paulison discuss FEMA's plans)
  • Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at FEMA on Tuesday for what she said was a "lack of urgency and lack of respect" involving the recovery of bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims. Blanco said she ordered the state to sign a contract with Kenyon International Monday, after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff failed to live up to a promise to sign a contract with the organization. (Full story)
  • New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday if an EPA water quality report comes back with the expected good results, he will reopen parts of New Orleans, including the French Quarter, for business next week.
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