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 power outages that could last 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.”
Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida emergency workers to immediately check on all nursing homes to make sure patients are safe, and he vowed to punish anyone found culpable in the deaths.
“This situation is unfathomable,” he said.
Air conditioning knocked out
The home said in a statement that the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the AC.
The five women and three men ranged in age from 70 to 99.
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.
Across the street from the stifling nursing home sat a fully air-conditioned hospital, Memorial Regional.
Death toll climbs
Broward County said the nursing home had alerted the county emergency operations center Tuesday that it had lost power, but when asked if it had any medical needs or emergencies, it did not request help.
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 aftermath, including tree-clearing accidents and lethal generator fumes.
Not counting the nursing home deaths, at least 17 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.