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Louisiana governor takes stand in trial over Katrina nursing home deaths

Louisiana governor takes stand in trial over Katrina nursing home deaths

Gov. Kathleen Blanco feared many people would decide to ride out Hurricane Katrina but left it to local officials to order a mandatory evacuation, she testified Tuesday in the trial of two nursing home owners charged in the drowning deaths of patients.
Prosecutors called the governor as a witness after she fought a subpoena from attorneys for Mabel and Salvador Mangano, the husband and wife who own St. Rita's nursing home.
The Manganos face 35 counts of negligent homicide. Prosecutors say they should have evacuated their patients from the nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, a coastal parish near New Orleans that was all but wiped out by flooding when Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005.
Defense attorneys say Blanco and other public officials failed to organize an effective evacuation and help get "at-risk" people to high ground.
Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Burton Guidry, Blanco said that until late in the day on Aug. 26, it appeared Katrina would hit Florida. She issued an emergency order at 10 p.m. that day after the state was placed on the edge of the forecast track.
She described three news conferences she held two days before the storm struck, during which, she said, she encouraged evacuation. She said she feared that many people did not realize the storm was heading for Louisiana and that many would not evacuate, especially those who had spent hours stuck on the road a year earlier during an evacuation for Hurricane Ivan.
"I was concerned that a lot of people did not even know about it Saturday night," Blanco said. "I was concerned that people would not want to get on the highways."
She said 1.3 million people fled in the 36 hours before Katrina hit. She never issued a mandatory order to leave, she testified.
"I did not issue that order because all the local governments were deeply engaged in getting out the word and helping people to evacuate," Blanco testified under cross examination.
Blanco said that when Hurricane Rita struck Louisiana, 3 1/2 weeks after Katrina, she worked to line up hundreds of buses in advance to help people evacuate. "We learned our lesson," she said.
She also said the state received requests from nursing homes for help in evacuating residents.
"There was a tremendous amount of pleading for help, including citizens, nursing homes and from hospitals," Blanco said.
Blanco was on the stand for three hours, acknowledging early on that she was nervous and explaining that she had never testified in a trial before.
The Manganos' trial was moved to St. Francisville, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of St. Bernard Parish, because of fears it would have been difficult to find jurors in the slowly recovering parish.
The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Blanco's attempt to avoid testifying in the trial. An attorney for the Democratic governor, who is not running for re-election, said Blanco was not the best person to answer attorney's questions.


Updated : 2021-06-15 12:47 GMT+08:00