Deaths claimed as storm-related found not to be

August 11, 2005|By SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The federal government used hurricane aid money to pay funeral expenses for at least 203 Floridians whose deaths were not caused by last year's storms, the state's coroners said.

The deaths include a Palm Beach Gardens millionaire recovering from heart surgery who died two days before Hurricane Frances, a Miami baby not born when the storm arrived, and a Port Charlotte man who died of cirrhosis and heart failure five months after Hurricane Charley.

In two other cases, coroners could find no record of the people dying.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved 319 hurricane funeral claims in Florida for $1.3 million. But most of those people died from natural ailments, suicides or accidents unrelated to the storms, the coroners concluded.

Florida's Medical Examiners Commission will discuss the findings at a meeting today in Key Biscayne.

The commission began a review of the deaths after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported in April that FEMA funeral claims were nearly three times as high as the official hurricane death toll.

Statewide, the number of deaths FEMA counted as hurricane-related but that coroners did not blame on the storms is at least 203. That number could increase because coroners have not completed a review of 33 deaths that resulted in FEMA payouts, most of them in the Panhandle, and medical examiners did not rule on 10 other people who died outside Florida.

The death review is the first official look at where the funeral money went.

Charged with compiling the official list of hurricane deaths, the coroners examined the FEMA cases to see whether they missed any fatalities.

The review identified six deaths not previously attributed to the storms, including one man in Broward who died of renal failure after missing dialysis treatments because of Hurricane Frances.

Ten people were not in Florida at the time of their deaths, including Brant Moskowicz, 40, of Boca Raton. He died in a head-on collision Sept. 7 in Ashburn, Ga.

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