Almost 500,000 homes damaged by hurricane

Louisiana launches probe into patient deaths at facilities not evacuated

Katrina's Wake

September 15, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BILOXI, Miss. - Hurricane Katrina damaged or demolished nearly half a million homes in three states, the American Red Cross said yesterday - four times as many as Hurricane Andrew did when it hit South Florida in 1992.

As President Bush prepared to speak to the nation from an undisclosed location in the disaster zone at 9 tonight, environmental and fiscal challenges continued to mount along the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana launched a massive investigation of health-care facilities where patients who weren't evacuated died after the storm.

Attempting to quantify the wreckage in Katrina's aftermath, the Red Cross found a swath of destruction that extended 150 miles inland, with entire neighborhoods flattened and flooded. Mississippi suffered damage to one in five homes.

Altogether, more than 240,000 homes in Louisiana, another 240,000 in Mississippi and 1,700 in Alabama got hit in some way, the Red Cross said. Hurricane Andrew, which was the costliest storm in U.S. history until now, damaged about 125,000 homes.

The six Mississippi counties closest to the coast saw the most widespread destruction, with one of three houses wrecked or completely wiped out. More than 80 percent suffered damage.

The hurricane's death toll stood at just more than 700 yesterday, but officials in New Orleans warned that more bodies might still be found.

In other Katrina-related news:

Louisiana prosecutors are probing New Orleans-area nursing homes and hospitals to determine if they neglected their patients as Katrina slammed ashore.

Investigators are looking into the deaths of 14 patients at the LaFon Nursing Home in eastern New Orleans, said Kris Wartelle, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Charles Foti.

The independent 9/11 Commission's leaders, one Republican and one Democrat, jointly blasted the Bush administration, saying officials should have realized that Hurricane Katrina was a catastrophe of national proportions even before the storm struck and not waited for mayors and governors to ask for help.

There will be no independent panel like the 9/11 Commission to study the government's reaction to the storm - at least for now. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, moved yesterday to create one, but Senate Republicans blocked her.

Louisiana's top environmental official said the testing of floodwaters and sediment in New Orleans and its suburbs has found high levels of bacterial contamination, but that toxic chemicals and heavy metals are below levels of "acute concern."

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