Eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning, bringing total number of storm-related fatalities in Florida to 20.
The incident raised worries Wednesday about the safety of millions of senior citizens amid power outages that could go on for days in Florida.
Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related.
“The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation,” he stated.
“It’s a sad event,” Sanchez told a news conference, adding “We believe at this time they (the deaths) may be related to the loss of power in the storm.”
Governor Rick Scott said he was “absolutely heartbroken” to learn of the deaths of the elderly retirees.
The five women and three men ranged in age from 70 to 99.
“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement.
“Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable,” he said.
Around 115 residents of the retirement home in Hollywood, north of Miami, were immediately evacuated after a nearby hospital began receiving patients suffering from heat-related problems.
Some 4.3 million homes and businesses were still without power on Wednesday in Florida and neighboring states, down from 7.4 million customers on Monday, according to Reuters.
Not counting the nursing home deaths, at least 17 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, and six more in South Carolina and Georgia, many of them well after the storm had passed.
The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38, AP reported.
Total insured losses from the storm are expected to run about $25 billion, including $18 billion in the United States and $7 billion in the Caribbean, catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Company estimated on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, were to visit Florida to survey the damage on Thursday.
Irma, which made landfall Sunday morning in the Florida Keys as a Category Four hurricane, had triggered orders for more than six million people to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in US history.