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Witnesses: Poor Planning And Follow-Through Led To Hundreds Of Katrina Deaths
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 2, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC--A Senate panel heard government and nursing home officials Tuesday as they tried to explain why so many people with disabilities and medical conditions perished before and after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last August.

According to the New York Times, the witnesses before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee cited a list of mistakes that left patients stranded in flooded hospitals and nursing homes without power, fuel, air conditioning, sanitation, food or clean water.

Johnny B. Bradberry, secretary of Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development, reportedly told Senate staffers that he had not acted to honor an agreement he signed in April 2005 making his department responsible for planning the evacuation of "special needs" groups in an emergency.

"We had no plans in place to do any of this," Bradberry said.

Dr. Kevin U. Stephens, director of the New Orleans Health Department, testified that he had been working with bus companies, riverboat owners and Amtrak to evacuate such residents, but that the negotiations were not complete in part because of liability questions.

While all nursing homes were supposed to have evacuation plans in place, just 21 percent did evacuate before the storm. One witness said this occurred because nursing homes had not been reimbursed for evacuation costs when other storms had not hit. Also, many hospitals had ignored warnings to install generators and electrical switches above projected flood levels.

The Times cited statistics released earlier this week showing that nearly 70 percent of the 796 Hurricane Katrina victims whose bodies had been identified by late January were 61 years of age or older.

Nearly 20 percent of those who died in the New Orleans area during and after Hurricane Katrina were in nursing homes or hospitals at the time.

The office of Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. has been investigating 13 New Orleans area nursing homes and four hospitals for negligence. The operators of one nursing home have been charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide for allegedly failing to evacuate when they had the chance.

While many drowned from the storm surge, many others died after the storm was over, when protective levies broke, flooding entire neighborhoods and cutting off escape routes. Some were found in their beds or wheelchairs, apparently unable to make it to higher floors or higher ground. Some died because of lack of medications and life-sustaining equipment. Others perished days after the hurricane left the buildings without power for air-conditioners.

"Committee Focuses on Failure to Aid New Orleans's Infirm" (New York Times)
"People With Disabilities Among Hardest Hit By Hurricanes Katrina & Rita" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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