WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Eight people died at a nursing home in the U.S. state of Florida for possible heat-related reasons after its air conditioning system was knocked out by Hurricane Irma, authorities said Wednesday.
In a press release, the office of the Broward Medical Examiner and Trauma Services confirmed the eight deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in east coastal city of Hollywood, located about 32 km north of Miami.
The victims, five women and three men, ranged in age from 71 to 99, while the causes of their deaths are yet to be determined, the release said.
Local police said investigators believe the deaths were heat-related. The facility has been sealed off for a criminal investigation after 158 patients, sweltering for days, were evacuated to hospitals.
The medical examiner's office said three of the victims were found dead early Wednesday, while the others died either at or on the way to hospitals.
"We believe at this time they may be related to the loss of power in the storm," said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez. "We're conducting a criminal investigation, not ruling anything out at this time."
The nursing home confirmed in a statement that it had a "prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility's air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane."
Local reports said the nursing home did have a generator, but it remains unknown whether it was functional.
Temperatures reached over 30 Celsius degree on Tuesday and Wednesday. Doctors said most of the patients have been treated for respiratory troubles, dehydration and heat-related issues.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement that he was "absolutely heartbroken" to learn of the tragic event, adding that the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration have also begun investigations.
"Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable," he said.
Police were also checking 42 assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Hollywood.
Approximately 150 facilities out of nearly 700 nursing homes in Florida haven't had full power services restored, according to the Florida Health Care Association.
Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, has so far killed at least 80 people as it swept through the Caribbean and south Florida.
U.S. authorities said 29 people in Florida, four in Georgia, and three in South Carolina died from the storm and related incidents.
Irma also cut power supply to over 10 million in southern America. Officials said it could take at least 10 days to fully restore power.
Catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Co estimated on Wednesday that the destructive storm has caused about 25 billion U.S. dollars in insured losses, including 18 billion dollars in the United States and 7 billion dollars in the Caribbean.