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Fate of older Floridians brings urgency to Irma recovery

September 13, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Utility crews across Florida are working around the clock to restore power to residents, but the outages left by Hurricane Irma continue to take a toll on storm victims. Eight people died Wednesday at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, and 100 others had to be evacuated due to lack of air conditioning. John Yang reports on this tragedy and how Floridians are coping with the loss of power.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: All across Florida tonight, they’re working to turn the lights back on and repair hurricane damage. And now there’s a new fear. Eight people died today at a nursing home, spotlighting the plight of the elderly caught up in Irma’s aftermath, in a state with four million senior citizens.

Our John Yang begins our coverage.

JOHN YANG: The tragedy struck at this nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. Officials said it had electricity, but the air conditioning wasn’t working.

TOMAS SANCHEZ, Chief, Hollywood Police Department: Our investigation has revealed that it’s extremely hot on the second floor of the facility.

JOHN YANG: Police Chief Tomas Sanchez gave few details.

TOMAS SANCHEZ: We are conducting a criminal investigation inside. We believe at this time it may be related to the loss of power in the storm, but we’re conducting a criminal investigation, not ruling anything out.

JOHN YANG: Authorities evacuated more than a hundred patients to nearby hospitals, many on stretchers and in wheelchairs.

Robert Gould, with the state’s largest power utility, suggested it all could have been prevented.

ROBERT GOULD, Florida Power and Light: It points to the need for having plans in advance when it comes to emergency preparation. This facility wasn’t listed as a top critical infrastructure — top-tier critical infrastructure facility. And that’s what we work with the counties, for them to help identify those facilities.

JOHN YANG: Across Florida, utility crews have been working around the clock to restore power, and there have been other reports of elderly tenants trapped in their homes.

The situation is especially dire in the Keys, home to some 70,000 people. Some areas remain unreachable to all except search-and-rescue teams. The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln is off Key West, a floating base for helicopters delivering aid. Urgent repairs are under way on US-1, the lone highway connecting the islands.

And water service is slowly being restored to those like Shawne Street, who rode out the storm in Cudjoe Key.

SHAWNE STREET, Cudjoe Key Resident: When Katrina hit Louisiana and stuff like that, and you feel sorry for the people and you think, what are they going through? But when it hits home, it’s totally different, you know? And it’s not just us. It’s everybody.

JOHN YANG: Evacuees are slowly trickling back, returning to survey what’s left.

ORLANDO MOJERON, Islamorada Key Resident: I expected some debris, because we knew the direction that the winds were blowing, they were going to carry debris onto our property. It has happened before. We were not expecting to find somebody else’s sailboat on our backyard, and someone else’s dock with a fishing station on our backyard.

JOHN YANG: The economic costs of Irma are mounting. State agencies report an estimated $250 million in storm preparation and recovery expenses so far, and that price tag is expected to soar before it’s over.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

 

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