Florida nursing home deaths increase Irma's toll, and raise questions


However, it is conducting a criminal investigation to find out just what happened.

Police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman told local news outlets that fire and police crews began evacuating residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Wednesday morning.

Broward County said the nursing home had alerted the county emergency operations center on Tuesday that it had lost power, but when asked if it had any medical needs or emergencies, it did not request help.

A police spokesperson simply said "a number of people" were "in respiratory distress" at the facility.

County Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes Hollywood, said the situation is critical at places where older residents are effectively trapped because the lack of power means elevators don't work.

The overall death toll from Irma climbed to 81 on Wednesday, with several hard-hit Caribbean islands accounting for more than half the fatalities as officials continue to assess the damage inflicted by the second major hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland this year.

The home said in a statement that the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the AC.

City officials said eight patients from a Florida nursing home have died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Firefighters evacuated 115 people from the nursing home.

Although the cause of the deaths is still under investigation, sources say that the tragedy could have been as a result of heat related problems, after a prolonged loss of electricity and failure of the nursing home's alternative power source.

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Police said a criminal investigation was underway. For example, it said the facility's certified nursing assistants significantly exceeded state and national averages for the amounts of time they spent with each resident daily.

Three of the victims were found dead at the center.

Irma wreaked total devastation in parts of the Caribbean, where at least 43 people have died. A total of nearly 4.5 million Florida Power & Light customers have been affected by the storm, with about 1 million getting service restored, mostly by automated devices. Sanchez did not answer questions regarding whether a generator was running inside the facility.

On Thursday, detectives were at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after receiving a search warrant to investigate the eight patients' deaths, which police believed were heat-related. The two - among the thousands of power-line workers brought in from out-of-state by major utilities - spent about five minutes outside a house in Fort Lauderdale, when two cars with women who said they lived in the neighborhood stopped to inquire about the return of power to their homes - obviously trying to get their attention.

Glendale Owens, the daughter of one of the men who died, said she last visited her father in the nursing home Monday and everything seemed fine.

Across the street from the stifling nursing home sat a fully air-conditioned hospital, Memorial Regional.

Florida, long one of America's top retirement destinations, has the highest proportion of people 65 and older of any state - 1 in 5 of its 20 million residents.

Customers who lost electricity on Florida's eastern side will likely have it restored by this weekend, because fewer electrical poles came down than in other parts of the state, Florida Power & Light Co. says.

Jeffrey Nova learned of his mother's death from a journalist, after having tried in vain since Sunday to reach the home's nursing staff. The association is working with the state to identify homes without power in greatest need so utility companies could prioritize them.