HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning, raising fears Wednesday about the safety of Florida’s 4 million senior citizens amid widespread power outages that could go on for days.
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.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Sanchez said. “We all have elderly people in facilities, and we all know we depend on those people in those facilities to care for a vulnerable elderly population.”
Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida emergency workers to immediately check on nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make sure patients are safe. And he ordered an investigation into what he called an “unfathomable” situation.
“I am demanding answers,” he tweeted.
The home said in a statement that the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the AC.
Exactly how the deaths happened was under investigation, with Sanchez saying authorities have not ruled anything out, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. He also said investigators will look into how many windows were open in the nursing home.
Across the street from the nursing home sat a fully air-conditioned hospital, Memorial Regional.
The deaths came as people trying to put their lives back together in hurricane-stricken Florida and beyond confronted a multitude of new hazards in the storm’s wake, including tree-clearing accidents and lethal fumes from generators.
Not counting the nursing home deaths, at least 14 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, and six more in South Carolina and Georgia, many of them well after the storm had passed. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38.
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. A Tampa man died after the chain saw he was using to remove trees kicked back and cut his carotid artery.
In Hollywood, three patients were found dead at the nursing home early Wednesday after emergency workers received a call about a person with a heart attack, and five more died later, police said.