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Charges Filed Against Nursing Home Owners; Search and Rescue Missions Still Ongoing; U.N. Meets in New York; Hurricane Ophelia Update; Starting Over After Hurricane Katrina; Minding Your Business

Aired September 14, 2005 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Standing on a Legion Fields Avenue. And I'm right at the crest of the water here. It's dropped down significantly. Just a day or so ago I'd be standing in waist-deep water.
These guys are with the Massachusetts National Guard and they're getting ready for a day's work of search and rescue. Still technically a search operation and a rescue operation because they've still been finding people inside homes. It doesn't happen as much, we're now talking 17 days after the storm, but basically they're trying to secure this area, go house- to-house and make a determination if there's anybody inside, pets, for example, or perhaps dead bodies. Death toll now standing at 432 just here in Louisiana.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Grizzly count and grizzly work certainly for the folks on the ground there.

Miles, thanks. We'll check in with you in just a little bit.

Well, a pair of New Orleans nursing home owners charged now with 34 counts of negligent homicide. Mable and Salvador Mangano surrendered to authorities on Tuesday. The attorneys deny that the couple ignored an evacuation order and abandoned their patients. Louisiana's attorney general is Charles Foti Jr. He's bringing those charges. He's in Baton Rouge this morning.

Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Have you been inside the facility, St. Rita's? Have you had a chance to look and see exactly how these residents who perished all spent their last hours?

FOTI: I haven't been inside personally, but I've had investigators and lawyers from my office inside and I've seen the pictures. Just coincidentally, last night I talked to one man whose father was in the nursing home. He says, you know, he was glad that we brought these charges. He says, you know, my father was deathly afraid of water and he was deathly afraid of drowning.

In this case, we have charged them with negligent homicide. After doing the investigation, we prepare what they call is an application for arrest warrant and went to the judge in St. Bernard Parish, let him read the application. He read the application. And after reading it decided we had probable cause to make these arrests.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The lawyer for the couple has essentially said that they didn't abandon their patients. In fact, they saved a number of their patients. Let's play a little bit of what he . . .

FOTI: No one ever claimed . . .


FOTI: No one ever claimed abandonment. We're talking about criminal neglect. We're talking about a deviation from a standard of care that a reasonable nursing home administrator would do in like circumstances. This is a reasonable (INAUDIBLE) area of law. This is negligent homicide. There is no in negligent homicide, there is no intent. You just not did not do the actions that you should of done.

We had, in that parish, the authorities call for a voluntary evacuation, then called for a mandatory evacuation. They had an evacuation plan on file with the state (INAUDIBLE) authority. They did not follow their plan. They had evacuated for a prior storm.

They also had ambulance service available, a contract. We have affidavits saying they never called the ambulance service. It is a terrible tragedy and as attorney general, the men and women in my office are pledged to be the leader of protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of our state.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, let me . . .

FOTI: And you have to do more . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I just want to play a little bit because the attorney said, you know, when you're talking about elderly people, you actually can run some big risks. I mean, which is I'm certainly not defending what he did, but giving an explanation. Let's play a little bit of what he had to say about weighing the risks of moving severely disabled, in some cases, and elderly folks.


JAMES COBB, ATTY. FOR NURSING HOME OWNERS: If you evacuate these patients, many of whom are on oxygen, many of whom are on feeder tubes, many of whom won't survive the evacuation, if you pull that trigger too soon, those folks are going to die. This particular facility had weathered every single storm for 20 years without a drop of water. The difference this year was, we relied on the protection of the levee system designed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Almost sounds like he's blaming the Army Corps of Engineers for the death of 34 elderly people in the care of this couple. What's your response to that?

FOTI: But you notice what he said? If you evacuate too soon. He said, if you evacuate too soon. You did not pull the trigger, so you killed and drowned 34 people. I mean, everyone knew all over this nation that this killer storm was going to hit Louisiana and Mississippi. When the time had passed over Florida, they told them time and time again. The governor got on and begged people to evacuate, to get out of harm's way. The difference between it, Soledad, if you or I decide to stay there, we're big enough, responsible enough to make that decision. Where you have the entrusted with the lives of other people, you cannot take those chances. Yes, there are risks any time you move people that are receiving healthcare but to not to lose them to death . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Can you clarify the law for me for a second. Forgive me there, I just wanted to get the clarification. I know that under the law, under Louisiana law, the nursing home has to have an evacuation plan. Under Louisiana law, does the nursing home have to evacuate if indeed a mandatory evacuation order comes in?

FOTI: Absolutely.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No question? You've got an open and shut case? FOTI: I'm sorry?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You've got an open and shut case, you think?

FOTI: You know, we have probable cause to bring these charges. Everybody our nursing system is based on a trial. We have brought our charges. We have stated our case. But I'm not going to try the case here on TV. I try the case in a courtroom. And then whatever is decided will be according to where we live.

I have a duty to protect the people. I have a duty to investigate charges. I have a duty to bring those charges to courts or a court and I will bring other people, either civilly or criminally, depending upon the factual matter of the situation. We had 34 people drown that should not have drowned.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Sir, forgive me for interrupting you one last time and, truly, we are out of time. I'm just curious, 34 counts of negligent homicide. If, indeed, they are convicted on all counts, what kind of time do they face?

FOTI: The I believe that the maximum sentence for each charge would be could be five years.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: For each charge?

Charles Foti, we're out of time, sir. Thank you for talking with us. And I have a feeling we'll be discussing this case much more over the coming weeks, certainly, and months. Thank you.

Let's get right back to Miles in New Orleans.


MILES O'BRIEN: Hello, Soledad.

Sunrise here on Legion Fields Avenue. And members of the Massachusetts National Guard, Task Force Yankee, are getting ready for another day's work.

Search and rescue operations. You know, you might be surprised to hear that they'd be talking about rescues. But just the day before yesterday they actually rescued somebody alive. A 70- year-old woman out of her house in this sector not too far away from here. So there's still even this long, 17 days after the storm, there is some hope, as we dive into this noxious water here, there's some hope that they still can find some people alive in there. Take a look at this water. You just get a sense of what they're up against here, why there's so much concern about people attempting to come back to their own property trying to secure their possessions. The man in charge here is Major Michael Finer, Task Force Yankee commander.

Major, good to have you with us. Just tell us what the plan is for today with these guys.


The plan is to do what we call a hasty search. We've already done a hasty search of this entire area. And what we're doing is going out into areas that cannot be reached by vehicle for the purpose of trying to identify if there's possibly anyone left in the buildings.

MILES O'BRIEN: Is it likely at this point that there's going to be anybody alive in any of these buildings?

FINER: It is possible because people do have food and water and other things and the water is low enough to be alive. But we think we have taken everyone out of the buildings who was here who's willingly wanting to go.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. So this moves to a new phase now. And the phase that's coming up here is, all the people who live out there, and we're talking about many square miles, you've got a four by one mile district all covered by water. People are going to want to come in and get to their homes. What can be done? First of all, is it wise for them to even want to do this?

FINER: I don't think it's wise at this point to want to come in here and thwart through the water. It's very dangerous. As you see, we're wearing waders and other things. And, in fact, I was just going to mention, right here there's a huge obstruction in the water, so be very careful. It's about two feet deep. It's very dangerous just to walk through the water, never mind the water itself. The water itself is unknown at this point. We're just taking every precaution possible. And I think it isn't wise for people to want to trudge through the water at this point.

MILES O'BRIEN: Now you've set up at a nearby sports arena at the University of New Orleans, which the campus is right there. The Lakeside Arena there. You've set up a center for civilians who would be interested in getting to their homes for them to come to. What will that do for them?

FINER: That center will provide them information. If they want to come to the area or possibly call, that center will log their names, will give them information. We have maps there to identify if their home is over there, which may be dry, or if the home is back there and they may not want to do that. Plus, just to log information for families to try to assemble a database and other things so that we can locate them, if necessary.

MILES O'BRIEN: And are you going to tell them to wait till the water goes down if at all possible to get to their homes?

FINER: Most definitely. The water is receding at an unbelievable pace. The Army Corps of Engineers is doing a fantastic job in combination with all of the other agencies. And the water is receding blocks at a time. So I suspect within several days that most of this area will be dry and safer.

MILES O'BRIEN: In addition to, I think, a couple of dozen families that you've rescued, you also have found literally hundreds of dogs as well. There's a huge pet problem here. We've talked about it a lot. But you're also doing what you can to try to help the animals.

FINER: Absolutely. We've taken on the task of we call it Operation Puppy Chow. We have our whole chain of command who is supportive of us on this. And we're taking dogs from the whole area, bringing them into one area. Help decontaminate the dogs, feed the dogs, get veterinary services and what not and then work with the ASPCA and other organizations to evacuate the dogs or reunite them with their families.

MILES O'BRIEN: Major Michael Finer, thank you. Good luck today. Be safe out there.

FINER: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: You and the rest of the team here.

Soledad, once again, that civilian assistance center, which is at this arena not far from where I stand right now at the University of New Orleans campus, the University of New Orleans, it's open 7:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. local time. That's Central Time. And it is a good first place for these people to come. Many of whom, you know, might be watching in cities outlying here wondering if and when they can make it to their homes.

As you can see right now, the water has come down. But as far as the eye can see, there is a thick muck of water, sometimes as much as eight feet deep. So while the message from the mayor yesterday was, New Orleans is getting ready to get back open for business, that still is in certain pockets of the city. There's still a whole large swathe of the city underwater this morning.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's amazing to see how much water remains two plus weeks after the storm. And I guess it's even deeper beyond where you are, Miles.

Miles, thanks. We'll check in with you in just a little bit.

Let's talk about the United Nations. The largest summit in the history begins today. As many as 150 heads of state are in New York for the UN's 60th annual session. Richard Roth live at the U.N. for us this morning.

Hey, Richard, good morning to you. How's it going to work? What's on the agenda today?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Bush is one of the early speakers. It's sort of a soggy birthday cake, though, for the UN, turning 60 years old. The delegates here agreed on a compromised document on the way forward but Secretary General Annan and President Bush, who did meet yesterday, they were both hoping that it would be more adventurous, more forceful. Instead, modest goals on reforms and poverty were adopted. But no definition of terrorism, no new human rights council. And Annan was furious at the failure to toughen language on nuclear proliferation.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: This is a real disgrace. We have failed twice this year. We failed at the MPT (ph) and we've fail now. And I hope the leaders will see this as a real signal for them to pick up the ashes and really show leadership on this important issue.


ROTH: So the world leaders have been gathering for an early breakfast. And that entrance way is usually a little bit more crowded. We've had Secretary General Annan and leaders from elsewhere arrive through that door, Soledad, and we're going to have things kick off here at 9:00 a.m. local time.

Back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We will follow what happens there. Richard Roth for us this morning at the UN.

Thanks, Richard.

Time to get a look at some of the other stories that are making headlines today. Carol has those.

Good morning, Carol.


Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

A deadly morning in Baghdad. The Iraqi capital rocked by a string of suicide bombings. More than 100 people were killed in today's attacks. Police say some 200 others are hurt.

U.S. military convoys in parts of the city also coming under fire. Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for today's bombings but that claim has not been verified.

There is word some U.S. troops in Afghanistan could be heading home. According to "The Washington Post," U.S. military commanders have drafted plans to cut the number of American forces in Afghanistan by as many as 4,000. That's only if NATO-led forces keep boosting their presence in that country. NATO defense ministers are discussing those plans.

The chief justice nominee, John Roberts, back in hot seat today. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins the second and possibly the final day of questioning. On Tuesday, Roberts told the committee that he wouldn't discuss matters that might end up going before the Supreme Court. CNN will have coverage of the Roberts' confirmation hearings, a special "Situation Room" set to begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

And Ophelia picking up strength off the coast of North Carolina. The National Hurricane Center has again upgraded Ophelia from a tropical storm to a category one hurricane. It's now packing winds at 70 plus miles per hour. But let's go to the man who knows.

Chad, good morning.

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: And good morning, Carol.

They just found in the hurricane hunter aircraft a wind gust to 92 miles per hour. Now, obviously, the hurricane hunter flies above the surface and that doesn't translate down to the surface all the time. Look at the wobble of this storm. It tried to go east, (INAUDIBLE) the south, then back, then made a right-hand turn overnight last night.

This thing is so undeveloped when it comes to a direction. It tried to move into Charleston, then turned around and came back, and now it's forecast to head out right over where our Rob Marciano is, right over Atlantic Beach and then even over Nags Head and Cape Hatteras. Battering waves coming on shore here for this storm. That is the biggest name thing for this storm. The battering waves beating down the beaches and possibly, in some spots, possibly even beating down some of the buildings.

There you go, the winds now up to 80 miles per hour with the latest 8:00 a.m. advisory. These are the latest numbers, 33.4, 77.8. So, yes, it is still only a category one hurricane but it is getting stronger. And if you look at it on the radar, you can feel that it's getting stronger. The colors are getting brighter. The storms are getting stronger. And the onshore winds and waves also getting a little bit stronger.

Soledad, back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, pretty incredible when you're pointing out that Rob Marciano was experiencing pretty heavy winds. And, as you said, he's, you know, a good 19 hours away from the storm actually making landfall where he is.

MYERS: Correct. It's down here and he's way up here in Atlantic Beach, Morehead City. Five miles per hour. This is going to batter it for hours and hours and hours.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Looks bad. All right, we're going to continue, obviously, Chad, to follow that storm.

Still to come, we're going to also meet a family that's trying to pick up some of the pieces after Katrina. From finding a home, planning a job, nothing is coming easily. We'll take a look at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: Welcome back from the city of New Orleans. We're in the Gentilly area and this is members of the Massachusetts National Guard getting ready to perform a search and rescue mission in some neighborhoods that are still covered over by as much as eight feet of water, even though where I'm standing would have been waist-deep just a couple of days ago. Still a tremendous amount of water here.

And what that has done for the many of the people who live in those neighborhoods behind here, has made them flee their city and perhaps, in many cases permanently. CNN's Kelly Wallace from Beaumont, Texas, with one such story.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Nothing's quite the same for the St. Cyr family of New Orleans. Sure, a mom drives her little ones to school like she used to, but then she heads to a home that is not her own.

DENISE ST. CYR, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: And my sister-in-law Katherine.

WALLACE: Denise and her family are staying in Beaumont, Texas, with her brother and sister- in-law. Sixteen members of the extended family, six kids, and 10 adults all under one roof. So organization is key.

DENISE ST. CYR: I have more respect for paper plates than I ever had in my life.

WALLACE: Denise says she and her husband, who own three homes in New Orleans, have decided to remain in Beaumont for the entire school year. Starting over is not easy.

DENISE ST. CYR: It's just like the other day we were looking at houses and he asked me what was wrong. And I said, I want life to be back like it was and it's not.

WALLACE: But then a rare tip about a house available for rent.

DENISE ST. CYR: I have a girl who loves Scooby-Doo and SpongeBob.

WALLACE: After a call to her husband, she's filling out the paperwork for the house and working the phones.

DENISE ST. CYR: Well, I'm home because I was told I couldn't work until I could talk to them.

WALLACE: Denise is trying to continue her work as a pharmacist here in Beaumont while her husband works at a local office for the IRS. There are so many things to do and so many things to replace.

DENISE ST. CYR: On Sunday we were getting ready for church. We were I'm looking through the kids' suitcase, because we're still living out of a suitcase, and I'm thinking, OK, what are you all going to wear to church that's appropriate? Because all of the dresses are at home in the closet.

WALLACE: There are things seven-year-old Leda and six-year-old Kristen (ph) miss about their life in New Orleans.

LEDA ST. CYR: I think most, my bed.

KRISTEN ST. CYR: I miss my bed too. And I miss my house. And also I miss my little room.

WALLACE: And there is something larger this family misses Denise's great aunt was at a nursing home when Katrina hit. She died days after a storm on a bus to the airport.

DENISE ST. CYR: When that levee broke, that's when all the misery started. And when we found out that she died and how she died, I think all of us, myself, my sister, my mom, my cousins, we all kind of felt some guilt because we didn't go get her.

WALLACE: Grieving about all that's been lost, while trying so hard to begin anew.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Beaumont, Texas.


MILES O'BRIEN: Denise St. Cyr says her husband's aunt also perished in the aftermath of Katrina and she and her family, Denise St. Cyr's family that is, have not made a decision as to whether to return here to New Orleans. And I think, Soledad, a lot of families facing that vexing decision in the months ahead.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, no question about that. And you know the guilt, too. You hear that a lot, especially with the elderly people. You know, did you do enough to evacuate them and save their lives? And I think many people look and say, maybe not.

All right, Miles, we'll be back to you in just a little bit.

But still to come this morning, why critics say the huge spending on Katrina's cleanup is a disaster in waiting. A look at that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Federal monitoring of the contractors and the billions of dollars that are being spent to start the rebuilding process on the Gulf Coast. Andy Serwer's got a look at that as he minds your business.

So someone's going to watch where all this money's going?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it's probably a good idea. And $62 billion allocated so far. That number is sure to rise to over $100 billion.

The Department of Homeland Security are sending teams of auditors and investigators down to the Gulf region to look over those billions of dollars. We found out that yesterday a team of 30 of these investigators will be leaving soon. And this is interesting. They have a budget of $15 million. So we're spending money to watch over the money.

Of course, this all has to do with some of those giant no-bid contracts that companies like the Floor (ph) and the Shaw Group (ph) have gotten. Haliburton also has work down there as well. And you may remember as well, Soledad, we told you about those credit card limits for federal employees have been upped from $25,000 to $250,000. One report saying if we see a $250,000 expenditure, we're going to zero right in on that person and ask them, what did you do, buy a helicopter? I mean because that could be a lot of money.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That is quite a spending limit on your corporate card.

SERWER: Yes, how would you like to have that?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, I'm going to work on that right after this show.

SERWER: Right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Who do I talk to about that?

SERWER: Yes. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, you know, maybe it will cut out some of the fraud.

SERWER: That's right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Andy, thank you.

Still to come this morning, some parts of New Orleans could be reopening sooner than expected. We're going tell you where and when ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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