Death of 8 at Florida nursing home sounds alarms after Irma

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane-scarred Florida warily eyed the fate of its most vulnerable residents and emergency workers were urged to immediately check on those in nursing homes after eight people died in a scorching facility that lost its air conditioning in the storm.

Even in the face of a storm that shrouded nearly the entire state and had officials still piecing together its destruction, the news Wednesday from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills stood out, with victims as old as 99 among the dead and worries the count could grow.

“Unfathomable,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “Inexcusable,” Sen. Bill Nelson added.

Elsewhere in South Florida, other alarms were sounded for older residents. In Coral Gables, an apartment building was evacuated after authorities said its lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants. And at the huge, 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door in the 94-degree heat checking on residents and bringing ice, water and meals.

Though the number of people with electricity had drastically improved from earlier in the week, some 6.8 million people across the peninsula continued to wait for power, and utility officials warned it could take a week or more for all areas to be back up and running.

As the state continued to piece itself back together, President Donald Trump was due to visit Naples in southwestern Florida on Thursday.

Not counting the nursing home deaths, at least 17 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, and six more in South Carolina and Georgia, many of them well after the storm had passed. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38.

In Hollywood, the Rehabilitation Center said the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the air conditioning. Broward County said the home alerted officials Tuesday that it had lost power, but when asked if it had any medical needs or emergencies, it did not request help.

Early Wednesday morning, after responding to three calls about patients there in distress, firefighters went through the facility and found three people dead and evacuated more than 150 patients to hospitals, many on stretchers or in wheelchairs, authorities said.

By the afternoon, five more had died. Others were treated for dehydration, breathing difficulties and other heat-related problems.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez, who said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center were heat-related and said the building has been sealed off and a criminal investigation underway. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. He also said investigators will look into how many windows were open.

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

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. She said Bobby Owens had been at the facility for more than 10 years.

“People are telling me different things,” she said Wednesday evening. “But nobody from the facility has told me anything yet.”

Paulburn Bogle, a member of the housekeeping staff, said after the air conditioning failed, the staff used fans, put cold towels and ice on patients and gave them cold drinks. The medical examiner’s office said the victims were five women and three men, ages 70 to 99.

Scott vowed to punish anyone found culpable in the deaths. Nelson demanded a federal investigation.

Calls to the owner and other officials at the Hollywood home were not immediately returned, but the facility’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, said in a statement that it was “cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome.”

The governor announced in a news release Wednesday night that he’s directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the facility, preventing it from admitting new patients indefinitely.

Nursing homes in Florida are required by law to file an emergency plan that includes evacuation plans for residents. County officials released documents showing that the Hollywood facility was in compliance with that regulation and that it held a hurricane drill with its staff in October.

Around the state, hazards were popping up in the aftermath of the storm. At least six people in Florida died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, and a Tampa man died after the chain saw he was using to remove trees recoiled and cut his carotid artery.

The number of people in shelters across the state fell to less than 13,000.


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City officials say a sixth patient from a Florida nursing home has died in aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

A news release from the city of Hollywood says that three patients were found dead in the facility early Wednesday, while others were taken to the hospital and pronounced dead there. A late morning news release said a total of six have died.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related. He said the building has been sealed off for the criminal investigation but didn't give further details.

The rest of the center's patients were evacuated. The center has had electricity and air-conditioning problems after Irma.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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Parts of Florida inched back toward normal with workers restoring power, clearing roads and replenishing gas supplies, even as teams scoured the state’s southernmost islands and authorities warned of mass devastation.

Residents drifted back from shelters and far-away havens Tuesday to see Hurricane Irma’s scattershot destruction. Flooded streets remained, and the count of damaged and totaled homes ticked upward even as some curfews were lifted, flights resumed and amusement park rides again twirled.

“Everything’s gone,” said Jen Gilreath, a 33-year-old bartender whose Jacksonville home filled with knee-high floodwaters.

As crews labored to repair the lone highway connecting the Keys, residents of some of the islands closest to Florida’s mainland were allowed to return and get their first look at the devastation two days after Irma roared in with 130 mph (209 kph) winds.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said preliminary estimates suggested that 25 percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and 65 percent sustained major damage.

“Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted,” he said.

The number of deaths blamed on Irma in Florida climbed to 12, in addition to four in South Carolina and two in Georgia. At least 37 people were killed in the Caribbean. The Florida deaths include four people who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from electric generators in two separate incidents.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everybody’s going to come together,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We’re going to get this state rebuilt.”

Glimpses of Irma’s economic toll were emerging, with Florida saying 31 state agencies had already amassed nearly $250 million in preparation and recovery expenses. In the meantime, officials warily eyed storm damage to its citrus crops, an issue Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio planned to address at a joint news conference Wednesday morning with growers.

The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million — just under half of Florida’s population. Utility officials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully restored. About 110,000 people remained in shelters across the state.

In hard-hit Naples, on Florida’s southwest coast, more than 300 people stood outside a Publix grocery store in the morning, waiting for it to open.

One man complained loudly that the line had too many gaps. Others shook their heads in frustration at word of another delay.

At the front of the line after a more than two-hour wait, Phill Chirchirillo, 57, said days without electricity and other basics were beginning to wear on people.

“At first it’s like, ‘We’re safe, thank God.’ Now they’re testy,” he said. “The order of the day is to keep people calm.”

While nearly all of Florida was engulfed by the 400-mile-wide (645-kilometer) storm, the Keys — home to about 70,000 people — appeared to be the hardest hit. Drinking water and power were cut off, all three of the islands’ hospitals were closed, and the supply of gasoline was extremely limited.

Search-and-rescue teams made their way into the more distant reaches of the Keys, and an aircraft carrier was positioned off Key West to help. Officials said it was not known how many people ignored evacuation orders and stayed behind in the Keys.

Crews also worked to repair two washed-out, 300-foot (90-meter) sections of U.S. 1, the highway that runs through the Keys, and check the safety of the 42 bridges linking the islands.

In Islamorada, a trailer park was devastated, the homes ripped apart as if by a giant claw. A sewage-like stench hung over the place.

Debris was scattered everywhere, including refrigerators, washers and dryers, a 25-foot (8-meter) fishing boat and a Jacuzzi. Homes were torn open to give a glimpse of their contents, including a bedroom with a small Christmas tree decorated with starfish.

One man and his family came to check on a weekend home and found it destroyed. The sight was too much to bear. The man told his family to get back in the car, and they drove off toward Miami.

The Lower Keys — including the chain’s most distant and most populous island, Key West, with 27,000 people — were still off-limits, with a roadblock in place where the highway was washed out.

Although the Keys are studded with mansions and beachfront resorts, about 13 percent of the people live in poverty and could face big obstacles as the cleanup begins.

“People who bag your groceries when you’re on vacation — the bus drivers, hotel cleaners, cooks and dishwashers — they’re already living beyond paycheck to paycheck,” said Stephanie Kaple, who runs an organization that helps the homeless in the Keys.

Corey Smith, a UPS driver who rode out the hurricane in Key Largo, said it was a relief that many buildings on the island escaped major damage. But he said conditions were still not good, with branches blocking roads and supermarkets closed.

“They’re shoving people back to a place with no resources,” he said by telephone. “It’s just going to get crazy pretty quick.”

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Kay reported from Miami. Associated Press writers Terry Spencer in Palm Beach County; Gary Fineout and Joe Reedy in Tallahassee; Jay Reeves in Immokalee; Terrance Harris in Orlando; Claire Galofaro in Jacksonville; and Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson and David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.



 

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