Prosecutors charge the owners of a Louisiana nursing home, where 34 people died

By Stephen M. Silverman
September 14, 2005 08:00 AM

The husband-and-wife owners of a Louisiana nursing home have been charged with negligent homicide after 34 of their elderly patients drowned in Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters.

In the first major criminal case related to the storm’s still-rising death toll, authorities claim that Salvador and Mable Mangano, owners of the St. Rita’s nursing home in the Louisiana town of Chalmette, failed to heed warnings to evacuate their patients as Katrina came ashore, the Associated Press reports.

For Louisiana alone, the official death toll more than doubled on 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 stands at 659.

In the case of the Manganos, “The pathetic thing in this case was that they were asked if they wanted to move them and they did not,” said Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti. “They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming. In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these people.”

Each of the 34 counts against the Manganos – who were released on $50,000 bond each – carries up to five years in prison. Their attorney, Jim Cobb, told AP that his clients were innocent, had waited for a mandatory evacuation order from the officials of St. Bernard Parish that never came, and did their best to keep their patients comfortable during the storm.

Tom Rodrigue, whose mother died in the home, was not satisfied. “She deserved the chance, you know, to be rescued instead of having to drown like a rat,” he said.

The attorney general is also investigating the discovery of more than 40 corpses at flooded-out Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. A hospital official said the 106-degree heat inside the hospital as the patients waited for days to be evacuated likely contributed to their deaths.