Update: County officials have confirmed eight people have died due to heat exposure.
Most of South Florida remains in the dark after Hurricane Irma, and with each day that passes without power, tragedies become likelier. Today eight nursing home patients in Hollywood succumbed to the Florida heat and died early this morning. Broward County officials said three died at the property at 1200 N. 35th Ave., which includes the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and the Larkin Community Hospital, after the hurricane reportedly knocked out a transformer that powered the hospital's air conditioner. The remaining five died at a nearby hospital.
Local officials, including Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez, said the nursing home was evacuated this morning after residents woke up sick due to the heat. Earlier this morning, Sanchez said Hollywood Police and Fire Rescue arrived at the facility after receiving calls that patients were in "critical need of care." County officials said that calls for help began coming in beginning at 4 a.m. and that most came from within the facility.
Sanchez said 115 people were evacuated to the Memorial Hospital system's North, South, and Pembroke Pines locations.
"We have other patients in critical care," Sanchez told reporters. County officials said they could not rule anything out Wednesday — even the possibility that the center might have been using a generator incorrectly and poisoning its patients with carbon monoxide.
A spokesperson for the Memorial Hospital system said the nursing home is not part of the hospital chain.
Raelin Story, a Broward County spokesperson, said fire-rescue personnel arrived at the home to find the facilities sweltering hot, leaving many of the elderly patients unable to breathe.
"As we arrived with our fire-rescue crews, we found people in respiratory distress," Story said. She said the county could not elaborate on the condition of the five people who died or the medical status of any other patients at the home.
According to state records, the center received poor marks during its last inspection this year: The state gave the property a single-star review, giving it one point out of five for its "quality of care" and the "quality of life" and "dignity" of residents. State records show the facility has a history of safety and fire violations dating to at least 2010, and the Miami Herald also reports the facility's owner, Jack Michel, was sued for fraud in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Also, state officials in 2016 warned that the building's power generator was deficient and demanded the facility install a back-up generator by March 2016.
The vast majority of South Florida remains without power three days after Irma nailed the state. Residents have increasingly expressed anger at Florida Power & Light, the only electricity company on the east coast of Florida, for what they say was inadequate planning or structural reinforcements before the storm. (As of 10 a.m., 440,000 of a million FPL customers in Miami-Dade County still had no electricity.)
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In the days before Irma hit, FPL warned residents to prepare to be without power for a few weeks. The company yesterday promised customers on the east coast that power would be restored by Sunday, but Broward officials are now asking FPL to focus on restoring power to hospitals and nursing homes as fast as possible.
Multiple residents at the home told the New York Times today that they called FPL repeatedly and asked the company to fix the transformer before people became ill. FPL instead blamed Broward County officials for not flagging the nursing home as a "high-priority" property, but county officials disputed that claim.
Michele Eve Sandberg contributed reporting to this story.