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Governor Blanco Testifies In Katrina Nursing Home Death Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 28, 2007

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LOUISIANA--Who is to blame for the drowning deaths of 35 St. Rita's Nursing Home residents in the turbulent days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the New Orleans area nearly two years ago?

That question has been at the center of the negligent homicide trial of nursing home owners Sal and Mabel Mangano since it began August 13. The state has charged the couple with failing to evacuate the residents, causing many to drown while still in their wheelchairs or beds, despite ample warning that the storm could flood the facility. Prosecutors have said that, while the Manganos "are not evil", they did not act in the residents' best interest, and suggested that the couple were motivated by profit to wait out the storm.

The Manganos' defense attorneys, however, have blamed local, state, and federal authorities for failing to properly design and construct the levee system that collapsed or was breached by the storm, causing much of St. Bernard Parish, where St. Rita's is located, to be swamped. They also point the finger at government officials for failing to coordinate a proper evacuation of "special needs" groups at nursing homes and hospitals, or to even officially order an evacuation.

During testimony Tuesday, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco told the jury in St. Francisville that she and other state officials tried their best to warn people to take Katrina seriously and to leave the area at once.

"I wanted people to understand that this is potentially the biggest storm that we will ever deal with," she said. "I just urged people over and over to protect themselves and their families.''

A January 2006 Knight Ridder news report noted that seniors and people with disabilities perished at a much higher rate than other groups during and after Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 20 percent of those whose bodies were recovered in the months following the storm were in nursing home residents or hospital patients at the time.

"Blanco: Officials relied on individual responsibility as Katrina took aim" (Times-Picayune)
"People With Disabilities Among Hardest Hit By Hurricanes Katrina & Rita" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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