6 dead at Florida nursing home where Irma knocked out AC

By Anthony Man & Erika Pesantes 
Tribune News Services

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Six people died in a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home that had no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power.

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said Wednesday three people died at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Three were later declared dead at nearby Memorial Regional Hospital. Police said the causes of death were not immediately known.

“We’re conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred here,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez, during a press conference Wednesday morning.

Three of the six have been identified by the medical examiner’s office as Estella Hendricks, 71, Gail Nova, 71, and Carolyn Eatherly, 78.

It was not clear how long the center had been without power.

“The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has evacuated this morning due to a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane,” said Jorge Carballo, administrator of the facility. “Facility administration has been in communication with Florida Power & Light and the Governor’s office since the beginning of Hurricane Irma, and is cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected.”

Police said 115 seniors were evacuated from facility at 1200 N.E. 35 Ave. Not all of their conditions were known.

The facility has a back up generator, but it does not power the air conditioning, Carballo said through a representative Wednesday morning. The building has two transformers — one for the building and one for the air conditioning. The transformer for the building came back on after the storm. The one to power the air conditioning was damaged and not working as of Wednesday morning.

“As you can imagine, evacuating 115 people from a facility is quite an undertaking,” said city spokeswoman Raelin Storey. “We saw that there were a number of people in respiratory distress.”

Sanchez said police would be checking the approximately 42 assisted living facilities throughout the city for any other patients in distress.

Patients from a behavioral unit of another nearby facility, the Larkin Community Hospital, were also being evacuated, officials said.

Police said they got a call about patients in distress at the Hollywood Hills site at about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Timothy Keefe, deputy chief of Broward County Fire-Rescue, said his agency was assisting Hollywood agencies in evacuating the entire facility.

Sharief said she’s been concerned about the lack of power to facilities that are home to the elderly and others particularly vulnerable to the heat.

The mayor said that she and County Administrator Bertha Henry pressed Florida Power & Light Co. on Tuesday to expedite power restoration to such facilities.

County Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes Hollywood, said the situation is critical at places where older residents are effectively trapped because the lack of power means elevators don’t work.

An aide said later Sharief was also planning to visit the facility.

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