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Louisiana deaths at 423; facility owners charged
Updated: 2005-09-14 15:41

In a day of reckoning across battered New Orleans, the owners of a nursing home were charged in the deaths of dozens of patients killed by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters, the death toll in Louisiana jumped to 423, and the mayor warned that the city is broke.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin said the city was working "feverishly" with banking and federal officials to secure lines of credit through the end of the year, but for now, it is unable to make its next payroll.

Amid the discouraging news, there were also clear signs of progress on many fronts: The New Orleans airport reopened to commercial flights, the port resumed operations, and the mayor said dry sections of the ravaged city — including the French Quarter and the central business district — could be reopened during the daytime as early as Monday, provided the Environmental Protection Agency finds the air is safe.

"We're out of nuclear-crisis mode and into normal, day-to-day crisis mode," Nagin said.

Entergy-New Orleans said it had restored power to 75 percent of the 1.1 million customers that were out at the height of the storm. And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said most of the military's search and rescue work was complete.

President Bush also put a final word on what he had called the "blame game" among politicians, saying: "I take responsibility" for the government's failures in dealing with the hurricane.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina climbed more than 50 percent in a single day Tuesday to 423, including last week's grisly discovery of 34 dead patients and staff members at St. Rita's nursing home in the town of Chalmette in hard-hit St. Bernard Parish.

In the nursing home case, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti charged the husband-and-wife owners of St. Rita's with 34 counts of negligent homicide for not doing more to save their elderly patients.

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

Salvador A. Mangano and his wife, Mable, were released on $50,000 bond each.

Their attorney, Jim Cobb, said his clients were innocent.

Cobb said they followed the nursing home's evacuation plan that had been filed with officials, and he blamed the St. Bernard Parish officials for not ensuring the plan was proceeding.

"They sat and waited for a mandatory evacuation order from the officials of St. Bernard Parish that never came," he said.

Cobb said the Manganos were forced to make a difficult decision as the hurricane approached: evacuate the patients, many of them elderly and on feeding tubes, or keep them comfortable at the home through the storm.

"If you pull that trigger too soon (on evacuation) those people are going to die," Cobb said.

Tammy Daigle, a nurse who worked at the home, also said the owners had been worried about trying to evacuate some residents of the home who they knew wouldn't survive the move.
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