Watch the video above: Investigators are carefully combing through piles of debris of the Residence du Havre seniors’ residence, trying to locate victims of last week’s fire. Jennifer Tryon viewed the site to look at the damage.
L’ISLE-VERTE, Que. – Firefighters and police face bitter cold again Wednesday in the ongoing search for victims in the ice-laden ruins of a seniors’ residence in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec.
Police confirmed Wednesday that 19 people died and another 13 are still missing and presumed dead after a fire tore through a seniors’ home overnight last Thursday.
For days, search crews have struggled to find human remains amid piles of rubble, ash and thick sheets of ice.
The missing are all presumed dead and police said they will continue searching until all of the missing are found.
Authorities said they are satisfied with the progress of their work during the last six days. Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Ann Mathieu said the searches are progressing well and about 50 people are combing the rubble of the building in teams.
Earlier Tuesday, media were granted increased access to the remnants of the Residence du Havre to see the efforts in the community about 240 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
Community mourns victims
On Monday, Sharon Woodman, an English teacher at a local elementary school, said services will be offered to help students returning to class to cope with the tragedy.
“It’s very important to return to some normalcy,” said Woodman. “There’s a lot of strength among the community, we really do support each other.”
Ten-year-old Allison said she knew people who had grandparents in the seniors’ residence.
“I just tried to wish them good luck for coming back to school,” she said.
Hundreds gathered in the Quebec community Sunday for a special mass to mourn the loss of the victims.
Roch Bernier, one of the owners of the nursing home, gave a statement after the memorial service.
“I am here this afternoon to offer my condolences to the families, and to say my thoughts are with the disappeared, and also with members of the community,” he said. “We will have very difficult moments, but we will live them together.”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois expressed her condolences to families of the victims of the fire and called the fire “unacceptable.”
Marois added that she wanted to see the results of the investigation into the fire before deciding how best to deal with the issue.
Prime Minister Harper will attend a commemorative ceremony for the victims and their families in L’Isle-Verte this Saturday.
Death toll expected to climb
Only four people have been formally identified by the coroner’s office thus far.
On Saturday, the coroner’s office identified two victims: Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Laureat Dube, 82. On Sunday, the coroner’s office formally identified a third victim on Sunday – Louis-Philippe Roy, 89.
Among the dead is 88-year-old Angéline Guichard.
Her son Jean-Eudes Fraser told Global News he rushed to his mother’s home at the Résidence du Havre de L’Isle-Verte when she called him just after 12:30 a.m.
She told him there was a fire and she was stuck on the balcony and cold.
He grabbed some clothes and a ladder, then rushed to the seniors’ residence a few blocks away.
He told Global News that the ladder wasn’t long enough and by the time he got up to the third-storey balcony, flames were coming out of the door.
He closed the door, but said the smoke on the balcony was so thick he could barely see his mother.
Fraser told her that she would be okay as they laid face down in the snow on the balcony, trying to make a pocket of air to breathe.
He said she then passed out.
That’s when he decided to climb down to find a bigger ladder in another attempt to bring her to safety.
But when he got back the building was completely engulfed in flames.
Fraser didn’t hesitate to climb back up, but as he got right down to his mother’s face he saw that she was already dead.
Crews have been on the the scene last Thursday after a fire broke out at the Résidence du Havre de L’Isle-Verte seniors residence.
High winds, cold delays recovery efforts
Weather has been a major hurdle, forcing crews to take regular breaks to warm up from the bone-chilling cold.
Police have had to approach the rubble carefully, not just to avoid harming any bodies within the structure, but also to preserve evidence that may allow investigators to determine what caused the blaze.
PHOTO GALLERY: Massive fire destroys Quebec seniors home
Global News’ Mike Armstrong reported there would have only been two workers — a nurse and an orderly –on the night shift when the fire broke out, not nearly enough to help everyone get out.
Lack of sprinklers, cause of blaze still unknown
The complex was mainly built of wood and windy conditions caused the flames to spread rapidly.
“It was just like straw on fire,” said Pascal Fillion, who lives near the scene.
“People tried to do whatever they could,” he told The Canadian Press last Thursday. “But the fire was so intense that there wasn’t much that could be done… I saw people crying, I saw people collapse because they were watching those people burn.”
The wing where the fire broke out was an older area of the three-storey complex where there were no sprinklers.
According to The Canadian Press, there were sprinklers in a newer extension of the complex and that’s what triggered the fire alarm, which broke out just after 12 a.m. Thursday.
A Quebec Health Department document indicates the residence, which has operated since 1997, had only a partial sprinkler system.
Many have compared the tragedy to last summer’s deadly rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., where 47 people died when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.
The July 6 accident also happened just after midnight.
Investigators in L’Isle Verte have begun speaking to witnesses and trying to determine the cause of the blaze.
“I’d like to call on the population, people that might have been present in the first moments of the event that might have captured video or pictures of the fire, we’re asking people to communicate with us,” said Lieutenant Guy Lapointe of the Quebec provincial police.
He said anyone with photos, videos or anything that may help investigators can contact authorities at 1-800-659-4264.
Earlier this week, Lapointe played down media reports that the fire was caused by a smoker and said careless smoking is one of many possibilities being investigated.
Police say other possible causes could include an electrical problem or a small heater.
The local health authority is offering psychological support and assistance finding homes for those displaced by the fire.