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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Katrina jail 'horror' condemned
Wrecked car
Up to 1,500 people were killed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
A US civil liberties group says thousands of prisoners in New Orleans' main jail were abandoned to floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says prisoners at Orleans Parish Prison were trapped in flooded cells without food or water.

The conditions were "some of the worst horrors of Hurricane Katrina", it says.

The sheriff in charge of the jail told the Associated Press news agency the claims were "lies".

Flooding cells

Prisoners, juveniles, deputies and staff at the jail were interviewed for the report.

It blamed the conditions faced by inmates on inadequate emergency training by local officials and the attitude of prison officials.

The sheriff's office was completely unprepared for the storm
Tom Jawetz,
National Prison Project

"As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness," said the report.

"Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests."

Some prison guards were left locked up in their posts to fend for themselves and were unable to assist prisoners, it said.

The report includes the story of Ashley George, 13, who along with about 300 other juveniles at a local youth detention centre, was moved to the adult prison.

She spent days in water up to her neck and was eventually rescued along with other children by adult prisoners.

'Safe evacuation'

"The sheriff's office was completely unprepared for the storm," said Tom Jawetz, litigation fellow for the National Prison Project.

The lies of inmates and disgruntled former employees have already been addressed and discredited many times over
Marlin Gusman,
Orleans Parish Sheriff

"The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did more for its 263 stray pets than the sheriff did for the more than 6,500 men, women and children left in his care."

But Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has denied the allegations.

"The lies of inmates and disgruntled former employees have already been addressed and discredited many times over," Gusman said in an e-mailed statement to the Associated Press.

He said 6,000 inmates had been safely evacuated without any death or serious injury.

The ACLU is calling for a federal investigation into possible abuses at Louisiana correctional facilities during and after the storm, and a review of the OPP's emergency preparedness plans.

Some 1,500 people were killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes when Hurricane Katrina lashed the southern US coast last August.

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