Crim­i­nal probe opens into 8 deaths at Florida nurs­ing home af­ter Irma

Stabroek News - - WORLD NEWS -

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla., (Reuters) - Eight el­derly pa­tients died yes­ter­day af­ter be­ing left in­side a sti­fling South Florida nurs­ing home that lost power dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, prompt­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and adding a tragic new di­men­sion to mount­ing loss of life from the storm.

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

Irma killed at least 29 peo­ple in Florida, plus seven more in Ge­or­gia and South Carolina com­bined, au­thor­i­ties said.

One of the most pow­er­ful At­lantic storms on record, Irma bore down on the Caribbean with dev­as­tat­ing force as it raked the north­ern shore of Cuba last week be­fore bar­rel­ing into the Florida Keys is­land chain on Sun­day, pack­ing sus­tained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour). It then plowed north up the Gulf Coast of the state be­fore dis­si­pat­ing.

In ad­di­tion to se­vere flood­ing in ar­eas across Florida and ex­ten­sive prop­erty da­m­age in the Keys, one of the chief hard­ships fac­ing Florid­i­ans has been wide­spread power out­ages that ini­tially left more than half of the state with­out elec­tric­ity.

Some 4.2 mil­lion homes and busi­nesses were still with­out power on Wed­nes­day in Florida and neigh­bor­ing states, down from a peak out­age tally of 7.4 mil­lion cus­tomers on Mon­day.

The power losses had fa­tal con­se­quences at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hill, a nurs­ing home in Hol­ly­wood, Florida, north of Mi­ami. Three el­derly res­i­dents were found dead on Wed­nes­day in­side the swel­ter­ing fa­cil­ity, which had been left with­out air con­di­tion­ing, of­fi­cials said. Five more pa­tients from the nurs­ing home later died at a nearby hospi­tal, they said.

Po­lice said they have opened a probe into pos­si­ble crim­i­nal neg­li­gence.

“The build­ing has been sealed off and we are con­duct­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­side,” Hol­ly­wood Po­lice Chief To­mas Sanchez told re­porters on Wed­nes­day. “It was very hot on the sec­ond floor.”

More than 100 res­i­dents at the nurs­ing home were trans­ferred to neigh­bor­ing branches of Me­mo­rial Re­gional Hospi­tal, along with pa­tients from a nearby fa­cil­ity that also was evac­u­ated due to the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Hol­ly­wood city of­fi­cials said.

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 sur­viv­ing pa­tients “have been treated for res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress, de­hy­dra­tion and heat-re­lated is­sues,” Re­gional Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal spokesman Randy Katz told re­porters.

Po­lice were first called to the fa­cil­ity at about 4:30 a.m. but au­thor­i­ties did not ar­rive un­til af­ter 6 a.m., of­fi­cials said.

Florida Power & Light said it had pro­vided elec­tric­ity to some parts of the Hol­ly­wood nurs­ing home but that the fa­cil­ity was not on a county top-tier list for emer­gency power restora­tion.

“I am go­ing to work to ag­gres­sively de­mand an­swers on how this tragic event took place,” Gov­er­nor Rick Scott said in a state­ment. “This sit­u­a­tion is un­fath­omable. Ev­ery fa­cil­ity that is charged with car­ing for pa­tients must take ev­ery ac­tion and pre­cau­tion to keep their pa­tients safe.”

NEW DA­M­AGE ES­TI­MATES

Irma caused about $25 bil­lion in in­sured losses, in­clud­ing $18 bil­lion in the United States and $7 bil­lion in the Caribbean, catas­tro­phe mod­eler Karen Clark & Co es­ti­mated on Wed­nes­day.

The Florida Keys were par­tic­u­larly

hard hit, with fed­eral of­fi­cials say­ing that 25 per­cent of homes were de­stroyed and 65 per­cent suf­fered ma­jor da­m­age.

Most res­i­dents had left by then and po­lice have barred re-en­try to most of the Keys to al­low more time to re­store elec­tric­ity and med­i­cal ser­vice and bring wa­ter, food and fuel.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is due to visit the re­gion on Thurs­day.

Irma wreaked to­tal dev­as­ta­tion in parts of the Caribbean, where at least 43 peo­ple have died.

Peo­ple who fled their homes in hard-hit is­lands in­clud­ing St. Martin and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands that were all but cut off from the world for days ar­rived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, late Tues­day.

Michael Ben­son, 65, of St. John in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, said he lost ev­ery­thing.

“My house, my busi­ness, both my ve­hi­cles, ev­ery­thing is gone,” said Ben­son, who was stop­ping in San Juan be­fore con­tin­u­ing to Bos­ton to seek refuge with his wife’s brother.

“But we have life. We rode out that hor­ri­ble storm in a shower that I had re­in­forced af­ter Hur­ri­cane Mar­i­lyn,” Ben­son added.

Irma hit the United States about two weeks af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey plowed into Hous­ton, killing about 60 and caus­ing some $180 bil­lion in da­m­age, mostly from flood­ing.

(Reuters photo)

A couple in front of their church, Haitian United Evan­gel­i­cal Mis­sion, which was dam­aged by flood­ing from Hur­ri­cane Irma in Immokalee, Florida, U.S. Septem­ber 12

A de­stroyed trailer park is pic­tured in an aerial photo in the Keys in Marathon, Florida, U.S., Septem­ber 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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