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Investigators Search Icy Ruins After Senior Home Fire in Canada: 32 Presumed Dead

Liz Burlingame and Allie Goolrick
Published: January 27, 2014

Cold weather and thick ice has continued to hamper the search for victims of a Quebec retirement home fire that left at least 14 people dead. Quebec provincial police also said 18 people were still missing and presumed dead after the fifth day of the excruciating recovery effort.

Police and firefighters used special machines that pump out hot air to melt thick ice coating the ruins.

The work has been slow and painstaking, with workers being given periodic breaks as they brave bitterly cold temperatures and strong winds in L'Isle-Verte, a town 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City.

The massive blaze broke out around 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the senior residence in L'Isle-Verte, a small town 280 miles northeast of Montreal, Canada. Frigid temperatures have made search efforts difficult, as water used to fight the blaze froze, coating the collapsed building in ice.

(MORE: Winter Weather Live Updates: Weekend Snow, Blizzard Conditions)

On Sunday, the owner of Residence du Havre in the Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte offered his condolences to the families of 32 seniors presumed dead. 

"What you're living inside, we are living it inside as well," Roch Bernier told a gathering of the victims' families at Sunday afternoon Mass. "We will try to find the strength to get through this."

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois cut short a trip to Europe to visit L'Isle-Verte on Sunday, where she met with the mayor and went to the scene of Thursday's fire.

The premier told a news conference that everything is being done to provide support for those who survived the fire and to give closure to those still awaiting word on their loved ones. She called the blaze "unacceptable" and said the provincial government is prepared to bring about any changes that are necessary to increase safety in senior residences.

"First of all, we will wait for the inquiry because now, we don't have the results of this evaluation and examination," Marois said. "After that, we will see if there are some new rules to adopt."

A total of 10 bodies have been recovered as of Sunday evening. The coroner's office formally identified a third victim on Sunday - Louis-Philippe Roy, 89. About 20 elderly residents survived the fire.

Witnesses told horrific tales of people trapped and killed by the flames. Of the residents living at the facility, at least 37 were older than 85, according to government documents obtained by CBC. Many had little or no mobility and were confined to wheelchairs or walkers.

The tragedy cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door. "This is a horrible tragedy," said Mayor Ursule Theriault, who also praised Bernier for his courage in talking with the victims' families.

The cause of the massive blaze is still under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues. Quebec Provincial Police Lt. Guy Lapointe declined to confirm reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but said that is one possibility.

According to Environment Canada, temperatures rose to a high of 18 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday, up from a high of 3 degrees Friday, which is expected to aid in the search.

Officials said they would end the day's search at 7 p.m. Saturday due to the difficult conditions and resume Sunday morning.

MORE: Deadly Quebec Fire

Canadian firefighters douse the burnt remains of a retirement home in L'Isle-Verte on January 23, 2014. (Remi Senechal/AFP/Getty Images)


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