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 ofmoreless
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