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Death Toll Rises to 8 at Florida Nursing Home After Hurricane Irma Reportedly Knocked Out Air Conditioning

 

Six people died Wednesday morning when an air conditioning issue forced the evacuation of a Florida nursing home, PEOPLE confirms.

Six patients at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were pronounced dead as a result of the incident, according to a Hollywood, Florida, police statement obtained by PEOPLE.

During a news conference Wednesday evening, Chief Tomas Sanchez confirmed the latest death toll to be eight victims. 158 patients were evacuated out of the facility and taken to area hospitals.

Authorities responded to a call for service at the location at around 4 a.m., police said.

“Crews found several patients in varying degrees of medical distress and immediately began treatment,” police said in the statement. “Three patients were found deceased in the facility, others in need of immediate transport.”

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief initially said during a news conference that two people died at the center and three more died at a nearby hospital. However, police now tell PEOPLE that the death toll has risen to six.

“The causes of the deaths are currently under investigation,” police said. “The Hollywood Police Department is currently conducting a criminal investigation into this situation to determine the circumstances that led to the patient deaths.

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All 115 patients were evacuated from the facility and 18 people from the adjoining Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services were being relocated on Wednesday.

Sharief said that the victims died due to lack of air conditioning at the facility after Hurricane Irma knocked out the building’s power, USA Today reports. Temperatures in the city have reached nearly 90 degrees.

It is unclear how long the building had been without power, but Sharief reportedly said that the electricity had not been working for days, according to the publication. Crews have reportedly begun checking on patients at the other facilities in the city.

Hollywood police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman told The Sun-Sentinel that one person who died “supposedly was without electricity for a few days.”

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

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Sharief said she has been concerned about lack of power to facilities housing those vulnerable to heat, the Sentinel reports. She said that she and another county official had urged a local energy company on Tuesday to quickly restore the power.

Dave Long, a repair man, told WPLG that the building’s air conditioning unit fell out during Hurricane Irma. He said he had been trying to have the unit fixed for days.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “We’ve been calling and calling … It just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and I can’t do anything until we get that fuse popped back in.”

Kitchen worker, Jean Lindor, told the Miami Herald that the building had power from a generator to cook food, but had no air conditioning.

Footage of the scene showed patients sitting outside the building in wheelchairs and others being pulled out on stretchers, as shown in a video shared by CBS News.

In a

, the Florida Health Care Association said that approximately 150 facilities out of the nearly 700 facilities in the state do not currently have full power services, and that they are in regular communication with their facilities to help and coordinate needs.

“The loss of these individuals is a profound tragedy within the larger tragedy of Hurricane Irma and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these residents. Our centers’ first priority is always the safety and well-being of every resident in their care and they are doing everything in their power to meet their immediate and ongoing needs,” the statement read in part.

In the wake of the incident, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he is “demanding answers.”

“Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable,” Scott said in the statement. “Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe — especially patients that are in poor health.”

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