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5 Florida nursing home deaths linked to Hurricane Irma's aftermath

September 13, 2017 3:21 PM
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5 Florida nursing home deaths linked to Hurricane Irma's aftermath

Police evacuating buildings without power, carbon monoxide deaths also reported

Five patients at a nursing home in Hollywood, Fla., died in Hurricane Irma's aftermath as people confronted a multitude of new hazards in the storm's wake, including oppressive heat, brush-clearing accidents and poisonous fumes from generators.

Tom Sanchez, police chief in Hollywood, a Broward County city between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, said investigators believe the five deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat related.

"The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation," he said, without giving further details.

A total of 115 patients were evacuated from the nursing home, which lost power in the storm. Sanchez did not answer questions regarding whether a generator was running inside the building.

In the Miami area, a Coral Gables apartment building was evacuated after authorities determined a lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants, while officers arrived at the huge Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines to help people on upper floors without access to working elevators. More than half the community of 15,000 residents lacked power.

Also, at least five people died, and more than a dozen were treated for breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators in the Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach areas.

Aside from the nursing home deaths, at least 13 people in Florida were killed in Irma-related circumstances, in some cases during the cleanup, well after the storm. A Tampa man died after the chainsaw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery.

Elsewhere, Irma was blamed for four deaths in South Carolina and two in Georgia. At least 37 people were killed in the Caribbean.

In the battered Florida Keys, meanwhile, county officials pushed back against a preliminary estimate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that 25 per cent of all homes in the Keys were destroyed and nearly all the rest were heavily damaged.

"Things look real damaged from the air, but when you clear the trees and all the debris, it's not much damage to the houses," said Heather Carruthers, Monroe County's commissioner.

The Keys felt Irma's full fury when the hurricane roared in on Sunday with 209 km/h winds.

U.S. President Donald Trump's Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, said the federal government was working to help Florida Keys residents secure shelter through rental assistance, hotels or pre-manufactured housing. Trump plans to visit Florida on Thursday.

Bossert told Fox News that during his visit, Trump "is going to make sure the troops that he's put in place are doing their job and then to thank those folks that have been working around the clock."

Irma's economic toll on Florida already includes nearly $250 million US in preparation and recovery expenses by 31 state agencies. Agriculture officials also warily eyed storm damage to citrus crops.

The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million — just less than 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.

While nearly all of Florida was engulfed by the massive 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 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, 90-metre sections of U.S. Route 1, the only highway that runs through the Keys, and check the safety of the 42 bridges linking the islands.

The Lower Keys were still off-limits, with a roadblock in place where the highway was washed out.


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