updated 9/11/2007 9:48:38 PM ET 2007-09-12T01:48:38

Days after a jury acquitted two nursing-home owners in dozens of Hurricane Katrina-related patient deaths, a prosecutor said that no charges would be filed in a similar case involving a nursing home run by an order of Roman Catholic nuns.

Nineteen elderly residents of Lafon nursing home, run by the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, died in the days after Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005. Flooding destroyed much of the food, drinking water and medicine inside the sweltering building, and it took days for help to arrive.

In a statement issued late Monday, District Attorney Eddie Jordan said he determined that, after a thorough review, no criminal conduct had occurred.

"The sisters are very gratified and relieved," said attorney Evans Schmidt, who represents the religious order. "It has been a long, hard two years."

It was the last case in which workers responsible for caring for patients who died in Katrina's chaotic aftermath had been investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing. No one was convicted in any of the cases.

State Attorney General Charles Foti had investigated the Lafon deaths and turned over the results to Jordan a year ago without making a recommendation on whether to seek criminal charges.

Jordan's statement did not refer to Friday's acquittals of the owners of a nursing home in neighboring St. Bernard Parish on charges of negligent homicide and cruelty. His staff said he would have no further comment.

State prosecutors alleged that Sal and Mabel Mangano, owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home, were criminally responsible for 35 patient deaths, but the jury disagreed.

Moving residents seemed more dangerous
Like St. Rita's owners, the operators at Lafon decided that keeping their frail residents at the home was safer than trying to move them. However, two days before Katrina made landfall, the Sisters of the Holy Family evacuated elderly nuns living on the second floor of the nursing home but not the lay residents on the first floor. All 60 nuns living in the motherhouse across the street also were evacuated.

About 20 staff members, including a half-dozen nuns, rode out the hurricane at the nursing home with more than 100 residents.

Although flooding was about 3 feet deep in the first floor of the building, the staff was able to evacuate residents to the second floor. But much of the food, drinking water and medicine was destroyed by the flooding. Conditions deteriorated further when the generator failed, causing temperatures inside the home to soar.

Staff members flagged down emergency vehicles to try to get help, but none arrived until the fourth day when a staff member's relative found a bus. Three dozen residents were taken to a nursing home in Houma.

The next day, two FEMA workers arranged for a squadron of Black Hawk helicopters to take the remaining residents to a makeshift hospital at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Administrators with the Sisters of the Holy Family, an African-American religious order founded in 1842 by a free woman of African descent, have declined interviews, citing the unresolved criminal investigation and wrongful-death lawsuits filed by relatives of victims.

Oldest operating nursing home in U.S.
The order plans to reopen the nursing home when renovations are completed, Schmidt said.

"It's a very important ministry to the sisters," Schmidt said. "Before Katrina it was the oldest continuously operating nursing home in the United States."

Several lawsuits are pending against the sisters, the Manganos and in another Hurricane Katrina case in which Foti had sought criminal charges. Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses had been accused of killing patients at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center, but charges were dropped against the nurses and a grand jury declined to indict Pou.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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