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Associated Press
Emergency workers resume the search for victims at a fatal seniors residence fire, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

Owner of fire-ravaged Quebec home speaks out

Associated Press
Emergency workers continue the search for victims Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. at the scene of a fatal fire at a seniors residence. Authorities are saying it is too early to conclude that a cigarette caused Thursdays deadly blaze in a seniors' residence in eastern Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

– The owner of a Quebec seniors' residence that burned to the ground offered his condolences Sunday to the families of the 32 people feared dead as search crews had trouble recovering any more bodies in the ice-covered rubble due to the frigid temperatures and swirling snow. Officials have so far have recovered 10 bodies from the massive fire.

The Sunday afternoon Mass gave residents of the Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte a chance to gather together to share their grief. Roch Bernier, the owner of the Residence du Havre, received a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 people in attendance as he stood up to speak at the Mass.

"What you're living inside, we are living it inside as well," he told the gathering. "We will try to find the strength to get through this."

Bernier later spoke to reporters, but declined to take questions.

The cause of Thursday's blaze remains under investigation. There were media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but police said that was just one possibility among many.

Quebec police said poor visibility, blowing snow and frigid conditions forced authorities to temporarily suspend searches early Sunday – the fourth day of the excruciating search. Police later resumed the search, a day after the remains of only two more people were pulled from the rubble.

On Saturday, search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air to melt down ice that police said was 2 feet thick in certain places.

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.

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.

Some were moved to other residences for the elderly in the area, and the Red Cross had raised about $180,000 to provide clothes, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other urgent needs.

Many of those who died used wheelchairs or walkers, and some had Alzheimer's. Firefighters responded within minutes of getting the alarm but said they could only reach one-third of the building because the fire was too intense.

The tragedy has devastated the town of 1,500 people 140 miles northeast of Quebec City. Quebec Minister of Social Services Veronique Hivon said many of the village's volunteer firefighters had relatives at the retirement home.

The fire came six months after 47 people were killed in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying oil derailed and exploded.

In 1969, a nursing home fire in the community of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec, claimed 54 lives.

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Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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