HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Eight patients at a sweltering Hollywood nursing home died in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath, authorities said Wednesday, as people confronted a multitude of new hazards in the storm’s wake, including oppressive heat, brush-clearing accidents and lethal fumes from generators.
Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: “The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation.” He did not elaborate.
Three patients were found dead at the nursing home early Wednesday, and five more died at the hospital after a total of more than 100 were evacuated, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs, authorities said.
The air conditioning was out, but Sanchez said it remained under investigation whether power was entirely cut. He didn’t answer questions regarding whether a generator was running inside the place.
Also in the Miami area, a Coral Gables apartment building was evacuated after authorities determined a lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants, while officers arrived at the huge Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines to help people on upper floors without access to working elevators. More than half the community of 15,000 residents lacked power.
In addition, at least five people died and more than a dozen were treated after breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators in the Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach areas.
Not counting the nursing home deaths, at least 13 people in Florida have died under in Irma-related circumstances, many of them well after the storm had passed. A Tampa man died after the chain saw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery.
For many of Irma’s victims, the days ahead are likely to be soggy, sweaty, dark and discouraging. One of the biggest worries is the fate of Florida’s many senior citizens.
The longtime retirement destination has the highest proportion of people 65 and older of any state — 1 in 5 of its 20 million residents.
On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he had received a lot of calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities having problems with generators.
“We’re doing everything we can to help them get either generators, fuel, power back on. It’s one of the things we’re doing aggressively,” Scott said.
At the Hollywood nursing home, Jean Lindor, a kitchen worker, said through a Haitian Creole translator that the air conditioner had not been working since the storm and it had been hot inside.
Paulburn Bogle, a member of the housekeeping staff, said the place had been hot but manageable the past few days. The staff used fans, put cold towels and ice on patients and gave them cold drinks, he said.
Broward County Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak said his office had received the bodies of two of the victims — women ages 71 and 78 — for autopsies.
“They were sick already. It’s going to be tough to tell how much was the heat and how much of it was they were sick already,” Mallak said.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates nursing homes, gives Hollywood center a below-average rating, two stars on its five-star scale. But the most recent state inspection reports showed no deficiencies in the area of emergency plans.
The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million — just under half of Florida’s population. Utility officials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully restored. About 110,000 people remained in shelters across the state.
While nearly all of Florida was engulfed by the massive storm, the Keys — home to about 70,000 people — appeared to be the hardest hit. Drinking water and power were cut off, all three of the islands’ hospitals were closed, and gasoline was extremely limited.
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