(Photos courtesy of Louise Bashi, press contact, CBS News: Top-Mabel and Sal Mangano decide not to evacuate the nursing home, leading to the deaths of 35 residents; Bottom-a lone wheelchair sits in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at St. Rita's Nursing Home.)
Everyone remembers the numerous tragedies that resulted from Hurricane Katrina. This week on 48 Hours Mystery, they take a deeper look into the case of Mabel and Sal Mangano, caregivers at St. Rita's Nursing Home and their decision to not evacuate their residents.
COUPLE WHO FAILED TO EVACUATE ST. RITA’S NURSING HOME WHERE 35 DIED AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA SPEAKS FOR THE FIRST TIME ABOUT THEIR DECISION ON "48 HOURS MYSTERY" SATURDAY, FEB. 2, 2008 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT)For a video preview of this episode, click here.
“WE LOST PEOPLE THAT WE LOVED, BUT THE DECISION IS MADE AND WE CAN’T GO BACK AND CHANGE IT,” SAYS MABEL MANGANO.
“WE HAVE A STIGMA THAT’S GOING TO FOLLOW US FOR A LONG TIME.”
Among the countless stories of catastrophe from Hurricane Katrina, perhaps one of the most horrific was that of St. Rita’s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, where 35 elderly residents drowned because their caregivers decided not to evacuate the home.
In the days before Katrina hit, numerous evacuation warnings were issued in the New Orleans area, but over the years many residents had grown accustomed to storm warnings and were reluctant to leave. Among those who chose to stay were Sal and Mabel Mangano, who ran St. Rita’s. Their failure to evacuate resulted in the death of over half their patients. Subsequently, the Manganos were charged with 35 counts of negligent homicide for those that perished and 24 counts of cruelty to the infirm for those who survived. They faced over 200 years in prison if convicted.
“We lost people that we loved, but the decision is made and we can’t go back and change it,” says Mabel. “We have a stigma that’s going to follow us for a long time.”
The couple did not testify at their trial and until now, has refused to speak publicly about why they didn’t evacuate. In their first and only interview, Sal, 67, and Mabel, 65, tell 48 HOURS MYSTERY that, at the time, they believed they were doing the right thing by staying. In the absence of a direct evacuation order of St. Bernard Parish, the Manganos claim they considered the warnings to be just that – warnings.
“If it was mandatory, we felt like they would have come to help us, and we would have evacuated,” says Mabel.
“We don’t know how many would pass away by doing an evacuation. For 20 years we’ve never lost a resident during a hurricane,” says Sal.
The couple also claims that it was the breakage of the levees that killed their residents and not the actual hurricane. “The hurricane came that night and it was windy,” explains Mabel. “The parking lot didn’t have any water in it…So we felt real good the morning of the hurricane. We felt like, ‘God, it’s gone. We have made it. All of our residents are safe.’” Then, she says, “I heard them say, ‘The water is coming.’”
“Everything just happened so fast. Whoever was right there, you try and grab them,” Sal describes. “If they was in a wheelchair or the wheelchair turned over, as fast as it came in the building, they drowned within a matter of just a bit. It was horrible.”
Prosecutors maintain that the absence of a mandatory evacuation order was merely a technicality and that the Manganos were to blame for the deaths, a sentiment shared by the family members of those lost. “What’s sad is it could’ve been avoided,“ says Joe Galladoro, son of one of the victims. “We placed our faith and our trust in them...They betrayed that trust that we had.”
Now, two years after Katrina and five months after the trial many find it hard to forgive the Manganos. Others question whether the couple should still be held accountable for what was ultimately a larger breakdown among government officials and design mistakes by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, who built the failed levee system.
Harold Dow reports on the Manganos and their trial on 48 HOURS MYSTERY: "No Way Out," on Saturday, Feb. 2 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. This broadcast is produced by Paul Ryan and Sara Rodriguez. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer and Al Briganti is the executive editor. Susan Zirinsky is the executive producer.