Latest: Eight patients of Florida nursing home die after Hurricane Irma cuts power to air conditioning

Update 10.40pm: Eight patients at a sweltering Florida nursing home have died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning.

Hollywood police chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Centre in Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: "The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation."

Three patients were found dead at the nursing home early today and five more died in hospital after more than 100 in all were evacuated, many on stretchers or in wheelchairs.

"It's a sad state of affairs," Mr Sanchez said. "We all have elderly people in facilities, and we all know we depend on those people in those facilities to care for a vulnerable elderly population."

Governor Rick Scott called on Florida emergency workers to immediately check on nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make sure patients are safe, and he ordered an investigation into what he called an "unfathomable" situation.

"I am demanding answers," he tweeted.

Earlier:

Five patients at a sweltering Florida nursing home died in Hurricane Irma's aftermath as people confronted new hazards in the storm's wake.

Police chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the five deaths at the Rehabilitation Centre at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: "The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation."

He gave no details.

A total of 115 patients were evacuated from the nursing home, which lost power in the storm and had no air conditioning.

Mr Sanchez did not answer questions regarding whether a generator was running inside the place.

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 lifts.

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, many of them well after the storm had passed.

A Tampa man died after the chainsaw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery.

Elsewhere, Irma has been 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 that 25% 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 Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers.

The Keys felt Irma's full fury when the hurricane roared in on Sunday with 130mph winds.

President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said the federal government is working to help Florida Keys residents secure shelter through rental assistance, hotels or pre-manufactured housing.

Mr Trump plans to visit Florida on Thursday.

One of the biggest worries is the fate of Florida's many senior citizens.

The long-time retirement destination has the highest proportion of people 65 and older of any state, one in five of its 20 million residents.

On Tuesday, Florida governor Rick Scott said he had received a lot of calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities having problems with generators.

"We're doing everything we can to help them get either generators, fuel, power back on. It's one of the things we're doing aggressively," Mr Scott said.

At the Hollywood nursing home, Jean Lindor, a kitchen worker, said through a Haitian Creole translator that the air conditioner had not been working since the storm and it had been hot inside.

Broward County medical examiner Dr Craig Mallak said the bodies of two victims,women ages 71 and 78, had been brought to county offices for post mortems.

"They were sick already. It's going to be tough to tell how much was the heat and how much of it was they were sick already," Dr Mallak said.

The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million, just under 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.

AP


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