L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec — Crews struggled with frigid temperatures and ice as thick as two feet (60 centimeters) as they searched Saturday for more bodies in the remains of a burned-out Quebec retirement home as friends and relatives of the victims awaited news. Just eight bodies of the 32 presumed dead have been recovered.
A massive blaze swept through the three-story building in L’Isle-Verte, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City early Thursday. Quebec Provincial Police Lt. Guy Lapointe at a news conference lowered the number of missing from about 30 to 24 based on more detailed information. The official confirmed death toll remained at eight.
“The 24 people that are still missing, I think we can assume the worst. We’re not going to confirm any deaths until we’ve actually recovered the remains,” Lapointe said.
The coroner’s office identified two of the victims as Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Laureat Dube, 82.
The cause of the blaze that burned down the Residence du Havre was under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues. Lapointe declined to confirm media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but he said it “is one hypothesis among many.”
“When you conduct an investigation of this magnitude, you have to determine all the facts and not simply just one or two in order to achieve a conclusion,” he said.
Frigid temperatures continued to hamper the search, with Lapointe saying the ice in certain places was as thick as 60 centimeters (two feet).
Search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air.
“You can imagine how difficult it is to go through the ice, melt it, and do it in a way that we preserve the integrity of potential victims,” he said. “So it’s very difficult work again today. It’s very cold.”