Deaths at Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma | News | DW | 13.09.2017
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Deaths at Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma

At least eight people have died at a Florida nursing home after power outages during Hurricane Irma caused the air conditioning to fail. Millions of Floridians have been left without power in hot, steamy weather.

The Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, north of Miami, said in a statement on Wednesday that a "prolonged power failure" due to the hurricane had caused a transformer powering the facility's air conditioning system to fail.

Three people died at the nursing home, with a further five dying later in hospital, city officials said. The five women and three men ranged in age from their 70s to 99.

Read more: Hurricane Irma adds extra challenge to immigrants in Florida

The causes of death are being investigated, Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez told reporters on Wednesday.

"We are conducting a criminal investigation [and] not ruling anything out at this time," Sanchez said. The deaths are believed to have been caused by overheating, but carbon monoxide poisoning from generators is also being considered.

Temperatures were above 30 degrees Celsius (more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday and Wednesday in Hollywood as police started evacuating 79 residents of another nursing home in North Miami Beach.

"I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place," Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement, adding that he was "absolutely heartbroken" to learn of the deaths.

'Beast of a storm'

Hurricane Irma, which devastated some Caribbean islands and parts of Florida and was at one point the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, has dissipated, but it has left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

The storm has been blamed for 59 deaths so far — 38 in the Caribbean and 21 in the US.

In the US, nearly 7 million people were told to evacuate over the weekend and 13 million Floridians have been left without power in hot steamy weather.

Read more: Hurricane Irma weakens after leaving trail of destruction in Florida

"Irma was a beast," Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said simply, speaking to The Associated Press.

Irma generated as much accumulated energy in a dozen days as an entire six-month hurricane season would in an average year, Klotzbach calculated.

Just 30 hours after it became a tropical storm on August 30, Irma was a major Category 3 hurricane. By September 4 it had intensified into a Category 4, with 130 mile per hour (210 kilometer per hour) winds. It became a Category 5 storm the next day with top winds of 185 miles per hour, the highest ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Irma hit much of the Caribbean, including Antigua, Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, Cuba, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas. It narrowly missed Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Its highest storm surge, 10 feet (2.5 meters) was on Florida's southwestern coast and caused some of the worst flooding in northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

France, Britain promise more help

French President Emmanuel Macron visited St. Barts on Wednesday to offer support and solidarity to the islanders, after his government was criticized for not doing enough to prepare and help France's Caribbean territories hit by Irma last week.

After spending hours meeting with people on the French side of the shared French-Dutch island of St. Martin earlier, Macron promised to compensate those who had lost homes and livelihoods and to rebuild a more diversified economy.

Meanwhile, the UK said on Wednesday it would add an extra 25 million pounds ($33.2 million/27.2 million euros) in aid for its territories in the Caribbean devastated by Irma.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, pledging "our absolute commitment" to Britons there. Over 1,000 military personnel are in the region, with another 200 due to arrive within days, along with more than 60 police officers.

jbh/cmk (AP)

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