updated 1/22/2009 10:11:09 PM ET 2009-01-23T03:11:09

An appeals court on Thursday rejected a bid to hold the federal government liable for the deaths of three elderly people during Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

Without dissent, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's dismissal of wrongful death suits filed by the victims' families.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled in April 2007 that several federal agencies and officials are immune from suits brought by survivors of Ethel Freeman, 92, John DeLuca, 76, and Clementine Eleby, 79.

Freeman and Eleby rode out the Aug. 29, 2005, storm at their New Orleans homes before seeking refuge at the city's convention center, where they died while waiting to be evacuated. Photos of Freeman's lifeless body, slumped in her wheelchair and partially covered by a poncho, were widely published after Katrina.

DeLuca, who lived at an assisted living facility in New Orleans, died after he was flown by helicopter to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport several days after Katrina struck.

Plaintiffs attorneys claim the government acted negligently, failing to provide "basic humanitarian aid" to people stranded in New Orleans after Katrina, and therefore isn't entitled to immunity from the suits.

But the 5th Circuit panel wrote that although "federal government has publicly admitted that it made many mistakes," its actions were covered by a general shield that protects it from lawsuits.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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