Eight elderly residents died Wednesday after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning to a South Florida nursing home, leaving dozens helpless in the sweltering facility.
The facility has a backup generator, but it doesn’t feed the air-conditioning system, officials said.
Another 115 people were evacuated from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and a neighboring facility after first responders found the building full of seniors who were suffering in the sizzling heat.
Authorities initially said three people died at the facility — about 20 miles north of Miami — and three others died at Memorial Regional Hospital just down the street. The death toll was later adjusted to eight.
City officials said police were called to the facility around 4 a.m., but Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez said cops got the call at 6 a.m.
Police have launched a criminal investigation into the deaths, with Sanchez noting that it was “extremely hot on the second floor.” Daytime temperatures have hovered in the 80s this week.
Another 115 people were evacuated from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and a neighboring facility in Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he was “heartbroken” to learn of the deaths and he is “going to aggressively demand answers.”
“This situation is unfathomable,” Scott said in a statement. “Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe — especially patients that are in poor health.”
An employee at the 152-bed nursing home told NBC-Miami the building was cool on Tuesday, but dangerously hot by Wednesday morning.
The victims who died have been identified as Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84, and Albertina Vega, 99.
“They were sick already,” Dr. Craig Mallak, Broward County medical examiner, told the Associated Press. “It’s going to be tough to tell how much was the heat and how much of it was they were sick already.”
Patient Ofelia Carrillo, 97, needed a special chair to be taken out of the center. The situation infuriated her daughter, Madeleine Alvarez.
“This is the most stressful situation I’ve lived in my life,” she told the Associated Press.
Most of the evacuated patients were treated for respiratory distress, dehydration, and heat-related issues, officials said, and about 12 of the patients remained in the emergency room as of late Wednesday.
Officials said 18 additional patients from a second adjoining facility were also being relocated, though these patients were “not medically compromised.”
Jorge Carballo, the home’s administrator, told the Sun Sentinel the air conditioner wasn’t working because of a “prolonged power failure to the transformer” sparked by the storm.
Officials in Daytona Beach have warned residents of new dangers as the southern Florida city remains without power.
It wasn’t clear for how long the center was without power.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Sanchez said at a news conference. “It’s really sad when something like this goes on.”
Dozens of hospital staffers rushed to the nursing home when the evacuation order came in.
The center was cited in February 2016, when inspectors found problems with the generator’s maintenance, along with other safety issues, according to state records. The problems were corrected within a month, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Parts of Daytona Beach remained flooded days after Irma made landfall.
Of Florida’s 309 hospitals, all operational facilities have power or are running on generator power, Scott said. Ten Florida hospitals are closed and are cooperating with the state on a schedule for reopening.
President Trump confirmed he’ll visit Florida on Thursday to assess the damage.
With News Wire Services.