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Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pair charged in nursing-home deaths

BATON ROUGE, La. — Hurricane Katrina killed them, but the Louisiana attorney general said yesterday that he's also holding the owners of a nursing home responsible for the deaths of 34 victims, mostly elderly, found after the storm.

Residents of St. Rita's Nursing Home, in Chalmette, southeast of New Orleans, tried to fight the rising floodwaters by blocking windows and lashing themselves together with rope, but they lost their battle when water reached the roof.

Attorney General Charles Foti said Salvador and Mable Mangano, a married couple who owned the facility, turned themselves in to authorities yesterday and have been charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide.

The nursing home had a contract with an ambulance company to evacuate residents, Foti said, but it didn't call for help. It also turned down offers from St. Bernard Parish to send buses.

"Their inaction resulted in the death of those people," Foti said.

Foti said some people at St. Rita's survived, including a man who evacuated his elderly relative out of the facility by floating to safety on a mattress.

Foti said his office also will investigate hospitals where bodies have been found, including Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, to see if they died of anything other than natural causes.

About 45 bodies were removed from Memorial over the weekend. Hospital spokespeople said many elderly and sick people died at the flooded, powerless facility in the four days after the storm while doctors and nurses tried to keep them alive, waiting for rescuers who never came.

SUBURBIA

3 cities reopen to residents

GRETNA, La. — Three New Orleans suburbs announced they will reopen today, saying residents have safe water, electricity and sewer service.

Gretna, Westwego and Lafitte said residents could return starting at 5 a.m. but cautioned that they would face a strict curfew.

"The city now is open for business," Westwego Mayor Robert Billiot told WWL radio. "We are going to rebuild Westwego. We look forward to you coming home."

The three cities are in Jefferson Parish, which borders New Orleans on both sides of the Mississippi River. They are on the south side of the river, the so-called West Bank, and did not suffer the widespread, continued flooding that hit other areas.

In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin said he's waiting for official results of an Environmental Protection Agency study of air and water quality. If the results are as good as he's heard, he said he hopes to open downtown, the French Quarter and some neighborhoods to residents and businesses in the next few days.

SHELTERS

Housing search gets FEMA chief's focus

WASHINGTON — The hard work of finding a place to live for thousands of now-homeless evacuees promised to provide another major challenge for the government. The American Red Cross said thousands of people could be living in shelters for months.

In his first public statements, new acting FEMA chief R. David Paulison said he will focus on the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast evacuees living in shelters, tents or their cars. He pledged to "get these people out of the shelters into some type of either semi-permanent or permanent housing."

The American Red Cross said nearly 7,000 people are housed at shelters in Mississippi, with 75,000 across the country. Most emergency shelters weren't meant to serve as homes for more than a night or two.

"We expect we'll be sheltering people for several months," Red Cross spokesman Kevin Titus said.

State and federal officials say they're scouring the Southeast for up to 300,000 trailers and mobile homes to serve as free or subsidized housing for as long as two years.

The government also is looking for spots to establish miniature "communities" of several thousand mobile homes, but locations with enough space and needed utilities are hard to come by.

BODY RECOVERY

Slow pace frustrates Louisiana governor

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco yesterday expressed "absolute frustration" with the slow pace of body recovery. She said the state signed a contract this week with the Houston recovery company that had been hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to retrieve victims.

The firm had threatened to pull out of the state because it didn't have a formal deal, she said.

"I cannot stand by while this vital operation is not being handled appropriately," Blanco said. "In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect than they have received."

But David Passey, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency wasn't to blame. He said it was the state's responsibility to handle body recovery, while FEMA assists in identification. He said the Houston company had been brought in through a verbal agreement to assist.

State officials said the confirmed number of dead in Louisiana had reached 423, up from fewer than 200 last weekend. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said workers haven't finished door-to-door searches for bodies in every sector of the city, so officials expect the death toll to rise. The grim job should be completed by week's end, he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved FEMA's request for the military to take over mortuary affairs in New Orleans. Nine mortuary-affairs teams from the 54th Quartermaster Company at Fort Lee, Va., were preparing to go, and nine others are on alert.

DEATH TOLL

Hurricane Katrina death tolls reported by state and local officials as of yesterday:

Alabama

2

Florida

14
Georgia
2
Louisiana
423
Mississippi
218
Total
659

ALSO

Camp Greyhound: Greyhound Bus Lines has asked Louisiana's prisons department to stop referring to a temporary New Orleans jail as Camp Greyhound, a prisons official said Monday. The city's Greyhound bus station was converted into a makeshift jail in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Cuba still waiting: The United States has still not responded to Cuba's offer of 1,600 doctors to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, Cuba said yesterday. The response "has yet to arrive, and may never come," said a front-page government statement in Granma, the ruling Communist Party daily.

Compiled from Knight Ridder Newspapers, The Associated Press

and Reuters

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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