8 elderly died amid power outages related to hurricane Irma

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The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. Reuters/Andrew Innerarity

Eight elderly people have died in a nursing home in South Florida after it lost its air conditioning amid ongoing power outages related to hurricane Irma. The incident has prompted a criminal investigation.

Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has reportedly evacuated all its residents to hospitals due to the cooling problem. The cause of deaths was not immediately clear.

Officials said that many of the deceased were treated for heat-related issues, respiratory distress and dehydration. The Hollywood Police Department revealed in a news conference that their ages ranged from 71 to 99.

The centre, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said, had contacted the Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday to alert that it had lost power. It was then reported as a “mission-critical request” to Florida Power and Light for power restoration.

Jorge Carballo, the nursing home administrator, said the facility was evacuated "due to a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility's air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.” He said, according to ABC News, "Unfortunately, early this morning several patients experienced distress and there were three fatalities at the facility, followed by other fatalities at the hospital they were transferred to."

Carballo said facility administration is now working closely with relevant authorities for the investigation of the circumstances that led to the “unfortunate and tragic outcome.” He added that their hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected.

"The centre and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma,” Carball said, citing taking part in emergency management preparedness calls. He also mentioned that the centre immediately contacted Florida Power and Light.

Florida Power and Light has extended its sympathies to those who lost loved ones. The company’s chief communications officer, Robert Gould, said Broward County did not list the facility as critical infrastructure in a hurricane planning, The Washington Post reports. These locations are prioritized for power restoration for the services they provide to vulnerable people. Broward County has responded, saying it selected critical infrastructure based on a Florida Power and Light guidance document.

Federal requirements state that nursing homes should have detailed plans and procedures in times of emergencies and disasters like severe weather. Florida Health Care Association spokesperson Kristen Knapp said hundreds of facilities for the elderly have relied upon backup systems since Irma passed over the state, adding they haven't heard of any affected nursing homes operating without a generator.

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