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Officials release statement on hazardous conditions in warehouse used as shelter

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INDEPENDENCE - State health inspectors were surprised things deteriorated so quickly at a makeshift evacuation shelter in Independence where more than 800 people from seven nursing homes were crammed into space amid the onslaught of Hurricane Ida.

Read or watch the story from Nakamoto: 'Warehouse of death' by the WBRZ Investigative Unit where a resident explains what happened inside

NEW: More than fifty 911 calls made as residents lived in agony for days inside warehouse 

The Louisiana Department of Health released a new statement to the WBRZ Investigative Unit Sunday after The Advocate first reported overnight, state health officials signed off on the evacuation to the warehouse.

Attorneys for the state health department refused to release additional details by email, instead, mandating that any request for specific information go through a cumbersome, online forum. 

It wasn’t until an initial wave of deaths that state regulators began a public campaign against what unfolded inside the warehouse.

Seven New Orleans-area nursing homes evacuated to the warehouse in Independence.  All locations have ties to Baton Rouge businessman Bob Dean.

Dean has avoided TV cameras amid the high-profile failures at the warehouse.

The state health department appeared to swoop in and make a swift attempt to save the lives of people at the facility.  But, it turned out, the same department previously okayed the evacuation.

Visits to the warehouse before Ida’s landfall found “minimum necessary components to provide a safe sheltering environment for a very short period of time were met,” the Louisiana Department of Health said in a statement to WBRZ late Sunday.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit asked for documents related to the department’s allowance of the warehouse being used as an evacuation shelter.  WBRZ requests were tied up in state legal offices but the Baton Rouge and New Orleans newspapers reported health officials cleared the evacation.

A statement to WBRZ Sunday from LDH insinuated that: “LDH learned these facilities planned to evacuate on Friday,” an LDH spokesperson said in a statement.  

But, things changed quickly.

“Conditions clearly deteriorated following the storm. According to LDH surveyors, residents’ basic care needs were not met. Residents were in varying stages of undress, and were not adequately attended to. There were piles of linens and trash on the floor, and a stench of urine and feces throughout the building. And it was clear to receiving hospitals that residents had been neglected.”

By mid-week, LDH was coordinating evacuations.  A handful of residents from the seven nursing homes evacuated to the shelter died.  By Friday, LDH shut down the seven nursing homes

LDH blamed nursing home managers for not being truthful about plans for the warehouse: “The operator of these nursing homes failed to communicate the dire situation to the state and ask for help.”

State health regulators previously said any help was complicated by inspectors being blocked from the warehouse in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

In a new statement to the WBRZ Investigative Unit Sunday, the state health department said it did what it could when it finally realized a deadly outcome: “As soon as we had confirmed conditions at the facility had deteriorated, LDH took immediate action. On Wednesday and Thursday, we worked around the clock to get residents to immediate safety.”

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