8 perish in sweltering Florida nursing home, 150 evacuated
Home had hardly any air-conditioning after Hurricane Irma
Eight elderly patients died after being left inside a stifling South Florida nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma, officials said on Wednesday, prompting a criminal probe and adding to the mounting loss of life from the storm.
Three elderly residents were found dead on Wednesday inside the nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami.
Four more patients died at or en route to a nearby hospital and a fifth was later identified as having died the night before.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hill had been operating with little or no air conditioning, officials said.
Early on Wednesday, several calls were placed to emergency services from the Hollywood nursing home. More than 150 people were evacuated, many suffering from respiratory issues, dehydration and heat-related problems.
Governor Rick Scott called the tragedy "unfathomable," and police said they had opened a criminal investigation, sealing off the building after the remaining patients were transferred to hospitals.
City officials described the interior as "excessively hot," despite portable air coolers and fans that, according to state records, had been placed throughout the facility.
The eight who died ranged in age from 71 to 99, according to the Broward County medical examiner's office. The cause of their deaths has yet to be determined.But most of the survivors were treated for "respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues," Memorial Regional Hospital's emergency medical director, Randy Katz, told reporters.
Representatives of the for-profit nursing home, which had received a "below average" grade from Medicare's rating system for such facilities, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Florida Power & Light provided electricity to parts of the nursing home but the facility was not on a county top-tier list for emergency power restoration, the utility said.
Heat is a top killer after hurricanes and disasters cause power outages, said Thomas Kirsch, director of the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health. Kirsch noted that hundreds of elderly people died in the 1995 Chicago heat wave and when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
The temperatures in Broward County north of Miami have reached 32 degrees Celsius in the three days since Irma smashed into Florida on Sunday.
"We often see that injuries and deaths after disaster in the United States are more common than those actually caused by the disaster itself," Kirsch said.
Florida is home to among the highest concentrations of senior citizens in the United States with more than 1.6 million people ages 75 years or older, according to the 2015 US Census.
At a housing community for senior citizens in Immokalee, Florida, some residents told a Reuters reporter on Tuesday they had nothing to eat in their small apartments that were without power. An office assistant was hunting for bottled water and ice for residents without running water.
Among the state's nearly 700 nursing facilities, about 150 lacked power as of Wednesday morning, said the Florida Health Care Association, which represents most of the homes.
An assisted living center that went without power for nearly three days said that its efforts to run fans and keep breezes flowing between open windows could only go so far. Inside temperatures climbed to 31 Celsiu), nearing a critical point.
"A day you can survive, two days ok," said Dan Nelson, chief operating officer for Cape Coral Shores assisted living, adding that after that "things like what happened over in Hollywood unfortunately could happen somewhere else."