L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) — Using steam to melt the ice, investigators searched the frozen-over ruins of a retirement home Friday for victims of a fire that resulted in at least eight people dead and about 30 missing.
The tragedy cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door.
“It’s absolute desolation,” Mayor Ursule Theriault said.
The cause of the blaze that swept through the three-story building early Thursday was under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues.
Witnesses told horrific tales of people trapped and killed by the flames. Many of the 50 or so residents were older than 85 and used wheelchairs or walkers. Some had Alzheimer’s.
Pascal Fillion, who lives nearby, said he saw someone use a ladder to try to rescue a man cornered on his third-floor balcony. The man was crying out for help before he fell to the ground, engulfed in flames, Fillion said.
The spray from firefighters’ hoses left the senior citizens home resembling a macabre snow palace, the ruins encased in thick white ice dripping with icicles.
Search teams of police, firefighters and coroners slowly and methodically picked their way through, working in shifts in the extreme cold about 140 miles northeast of Quebec City. The afternoon temperature was about 3 degrees.
The confirmed number of dead climbed to eight with the discovery of three more bodies.
Quebec Provincial Police Lt. Guy Lapointe said exhausted investigators suspended the search overnight and will resume this morning. He said authorities decided to give the search crew a break from the brutal cold and the difficult work.
The work is specialized, and there is a limited number of people who can be assigned to the task, he said.
“The decision was taken that it was better for the safety, for the well-being of our crew, to let them rest,” Lapointe said. “Meanwhile, we’re looking at bringing in more equipment for the steam.”