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Death toll rises to 8 at Florida nursing home where Irma knocked out power

CBS News logo CBS News 9/13/2017

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Eight patients at a Florida nursing home who spent days in sweltering heat died after Hurricane Irma knocked out their air conditioning. 

Fire rescue crews and police responded to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, early Wednesday morning after receiving calls of patients in distress. Hollywood police chief Tomas Sanchez said at a press conference that officers found "extremely hot" temperatures on the second floor. First responders ordered the nursing home evacuated.

The nursing home had been without air conditioning since Irma knocked out electricity to the area.

Three patients died at the nursing home, and three others died Wednesday morning shortly after being transported to local hospitals. The Broward County Medical Examiner announced the deaths of two more patients Wednesday afternoon.

The eight victims ranged in age from 71 to 99.

The evacuation included 115 patients from the nursing home and 18 from a nearby behavioral facility. The patients were transported to area hospitals, including Memorial Regional Hospital across the street.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he was "absolutely heartbroken" over the deaths, calling the situation "unfathomable." Scott said he was directing state agencies to worth with local law enforcement to investigate the incident.

"If they find that anyone wasn't acting in the best interests of the patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Scott said in a statement.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. © REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. Aerial footage showed patients sitting outside in wheelchairs and others being taken out of the facility on stretchers.

Dr. Randy Katz, the medical director of Memorial's emergency department, said at least a dozen patients remain in the emergency room.

"Most of the patients have been treated to respiratory distress, dehydration, heat-related issues," Katz said.

Sanchez said police have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Sanchez said that officers and fire crews responded Wednesday morning to a call from the facility about some patients in need of critical care. Police officers are conducting welfare checks at 42 other nursing home and assisted living facilities across Hollywood.

Josh Levy, the mayor of Hollywood, said he urged mayors and county commissioners across the state to urge residents to check on elderly neighbors in their communities. He said 32,000 homes and businesses in Hollywood were still without power.

At least 25 people died when Irma pounded the Southeast earlier this week, including 12 people in Florida. Residents struggling to put their lives back together have fallen victim to new hazards, including oppressive heat, brush-clearing accidents, house fires and deadly fumes from generators.

One person was found dead and three others were taken to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning in Daytona Beach, caused by fumes from a gas generator.

Power outages continue to plague the state, with 4.4 million customers still without power as of Wednesday morning, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. More than 21,000 people remain in shelters across the state.

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.

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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