A criminal investigation has been opened after eight people died and more than 100 had to be evacuated when a nursing home was left without air conditioning in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Officials said temperatures soared inside the Rehabilitation Centre at Hollywood Hills, 20 miles north of Miami, after enduring a “prolonged power failure” to the transformer that powered the air conditioning units. Three residents were found dead in the facility and five more died in hospital.
“It’s a sad event,” Tomas Sanchez, the Hollywood Police Chief, told a news conference where he said an investigation was under way. “As a precautionary measure, we’ve assigned police officers to go check all the other 42 assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the city to make sure they’re in sufficient care of the elderly.”
On Tuesday, the lowest temperature in Hollywood was 26C, according to the US National Weather Service. The nursing home remains without power due to Irma.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was heartbroken to learn of the deaths.
“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” he said a statement. “Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.”
Geane Mitchell, a nurse at the centre told the WSVN news channel, she was due to begin work at 7am, having been off for the last few days. However, when she showed up to work, paramedics were barring the doors and telling her she could not enter.
Television footage showed rescue crews arriving at the facility shortly after 7.30am on Wednesday and patients sitting outside in wheelchairs. Others were taken away on stretchers.
The Miami Herald quoted Flora Mitchell, a 61-year-old who had come to search for information about her sister, a resident there for 10 years. She said her sister could not talk or walk.
“I don’t know if my sister is living,” said Ms Mitchell. “Nobody’s telling us nothing.”
At least 27 people died in Florida and nearby US states, and destruction was widespread in the Keys, where Irma made initial US landfall on Sunday and became the second major hurricane to strike the mainland this season. More than 40 died in the Caribbean.
In the US, around 4.3 million homes and businesses, or about nine million people, were without power in Florida and nearby states today, according to Reuters.
Utility firm Florida Power & Light said it had provided power to some parts of the Hollywood nursing home but that the facility was not on a county top tier list for emergency power restoration.