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Seniors get Popsicles, compresses to endure heat

Profile image for Terry Spencer and Jay Reeves
Terry Spencer and Jay Reeves, Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Florida seniors were ushered out of stifling assisted-living centers Thursday while caregivers fought a lack of air conditioning with Popsicles and cool compresses after eight people died at a nursing home in the post-hurricane heat.

Dozens of the state's senior centers still lacked electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and several facilities were forced to evacuate. While detectives sought clues to the deaths, emergency workers went door to door to look for anyone else who was at risk.

Fifty-seven residents were moved from a suburban Fort Lauderdale assisted-living facility without power to two nearby homes where power had been restored. Owner Ralph Marrinson said all five of his Florida facilities lost electricity after Irma. Workers scrambled to keep patients cool with emergency stocks of ice and Popsicles.

"FPL has got to have a better plan for power," he said, referring to the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light. "We're supposed to be on a priority list, and it doesn't come and it doesn't come, and frankly it's very scary."

Stepped-up safety checks were conducted around the state after eight deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which shocked Florida's top leaders as they surveyed destruction from the punishing storm.

Older people can be more susceptible to heat because their bodies do not adjust to temperatures as well as those of younger people. They do not sweat as much and are more likely to have medical conditions that change how the body responds to heat. They are also more likely to take medication that affects body temperature.

Most people who die from high body temperature, known as hyperthermia, are over 50, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Statewide, 64 nursing homes were still waiting Thursday for full power, according to the Florida Health Care Association. The separate Florida Assisted Living Association said many of its South Florida members lacked electricity. The group was working on a precise count.

A day earlier near Orlando, firefighters helped relocate 122 people from two assisted-living centers that had been without power since the storm.

And at the 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there also were widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door to check on residents and bring ice, water and meals.

For older people living on their own, such as 94-year-old Mary Dellaratta, getting help can depend on the attentiveness of neighbors, family and local authorities. The widow evacuated her Naples condominium with the help of police the day before the hurricane. After the storm passed, a deputy took her back home and another brought her food. A deacon from her Roman Catholic church also stopped by.

But with no family in the area and neighbors who are gone or unwilling to help, the New York native feels cut off from the world.

"I have nobody," she said.

The electricity is out in her condo, so there's no television for news. She cannot raise the electric-powered hurricane shutters that cover her kitchen windows.

Near the point of despair, remembering to take her medicine or locating her cane are almost insurmountable challenges.

"I don't know what to do. How am I going to last here?" she said, as a tear rolled down her cheek.