Eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the airconditioning, raising fears about the safety of Florida's four million senior citizens amid power outages that could last for days.
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," said Sanchez.
Governor Rick Scott called on Florida emergency workers to immediately check on all nursing homes to make sure patients are safe, and he vowed to punish anyone found culpable in the deaths.
"This situation is unfathomable," he said.
READ MORE: Deaths in Florida Keys takes Irma's death toll to 61
The home said in a statement that the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the airconditioning.
The five women and three men ranged in age from their 70s to 99.
Exactly how the deaths happened was under investigation, with Sanchez saying authorities have not ruled anything out, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. He also said investigators would look into how many windows were open.
WATCH: Florida Keys residents return to homes destroyed by Irma
Across the street from the stifling nursing home sat a fully air-conditioned hospital, Memorial Regional.
Broward County said the nursing home had alerted the county emergency operations centre on Tuesday that it had lost power, but when asked if it had any medical needs or emergencies, it did not request help.
"It's a sad state of affairs," the police chief said. "We all have elderly people in facilities, and we all know we depend on those people in those facilities to care for a vulnerable elderly population."
The deaths came as people trying to put their lives back together in hurricane-stricken Florida and beyond confronted a multitude of new hazards in the storm's aftermath, including tree-clearing accidents and lethal generator fumes.
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.
WATCH: Antigua and Barbuda PM appeals for help to rebuild
Source: AP news agency