8 confirmed deaths in Que. seniors' home fire
Published Friday, January 24, 2014 6:17AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 24, 2014 9:49PM EST
Officials have now confirmed eight deaths in Thursday’s seniors' residence fire in L’Isle-Verte, Que., as a team of investigators continue to search the ice-covered remains of the complex for dozens of people still unaccounted for.
Emergency crews are working in shifts and battling freezing temperatures, as they chip through the thick ice at a seniors residence destroyed by fire.
At a news conference earlier Friday, Lt. Guy Lapointe said the search and recovery process at the Residence du Havre is being handled by three different teams, comprising police, crime scene technicians, firefighters, forensic specialists and members of the coroner's office.
He said steam is being used to deal with the thick layers of ice, which quickly formed as firefighters extinguished the massive blaze Thursday. The steam will help to melt the ice, but will keep the scene and victims' bodies intact, he said.
Lapointe said there's no timeline for how long it will take investigators to retrieve the bodies from inside the rubble.
"The cold is extreme, the equipment could freeze, we could run into other issues, so at this point it's really difficult for me to set a timetable of any kind," he said.
The teams will be working in shifts out of concern for their safety as the temperature in L'Isle-Verte on Friday is forecast to reach a low of -20 C, but will feel like – 33 C with the windchill.
Lapointe also said police are looking for video footage and photos of the fire, and are asking any witnesses who have some to contact officers at 1-800-659-4264.
He would not give details on what might have caused the fire, but said investigators are not ruling out any possibilities. He added that it’s believed that there are 30 people still missing, but that number could change depending on whether residents were away for the night and if there were people visiting the home.
Meanwhile, the town's acting mayor Ginette Caron said a boil water advisory is in place for the town's residents and they're also being asked to conserve water.
Earlier on Friday, the provincial Minister of Social Services Veronique Hivon answered reporters' questions on whether the seniors' home met provincial safety regulations.
A document from the Quebec Health Department shows that the residence only had a sprinkler system installed in the newer part of the building that was built in 2002. The older part, which was built in 1997, had mostly burned down, while the newer part was mostly intact.
Hivon said the residence was in compliance with provincial regulations. In Quebec, sprinkler systems are only mandatory in seniors' homes that are four-storeys high or taller, or when the residents of the building are not fully autonomous, she said.
She also said the residence had a valid fire plan in place and had met the necessary fire drill requirements.
"Their last evacuation exercise was done totally in the time that is required," she said. "They did it in under eight minutes when they did the exercise."
She said that government officials will be reviewing these regulations in the wake of the fire.
The Residence du Havre was three-storeys high and had some occupants who were fully autonomous, and many more that had limited mobility. Caron, the acting mayor, said Thursday that some of the residents also had Alzheimer's disease.
Twenty people managed to leave the residence during the fire. A number were taken to hospital, including 13 people who had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning or fallen ill, paramedics said. Two police officers were hospitalized.
Health professionals to go door-to-door to offer support
Hivon said a team of health professionals has arrived in L'Isle-Verte, and will be going door-to-door to make sure residents know there are resources available to them.
"It's very important to reach out to people, because in the first stages people are really in a state of shock, and most of them have a tendency to really just close themselves up," Hivon said.
Witnesses of the fire recounted tragic stories of trapped residents calling for help while members of the community tried to reach them in vain.
The MP for the region, Francois Lapointe, told CTV's Canada AM said the town is coming together to support each other as they begin to come to terms with the tremendous tragedy.
"Yesterday, I felt a certain energy in the community here, where everybody was only thinking 'Can I do something? Can I bring you a box of donuts (to the first responders)?'" he said. "Today, it's changing. People are slowly realizing we'll be facing grief, a real grief."
Lapointe said donations can be made to The Red Cross, which is on the ground helping the survivors, many who have lost their homes and all their possessions. Donations can be made by calling 1-800-418-1111 or by visiting The Red Cross website.
He added that while the town is hoping that some of the unaccounted people may have survived, the community is preparing for the worse.
Queen Elizabeth II released a statement Friday saying she was “saddened to learn of the serious fire at the seniors’ residence.”
“The Duke of Edinburgh and I send our sympathy to the families of those who have died and our thoughts and prayers to all those who have been injured in this terrible event,” she said.
With files from CTV National News' Vanessa Lee and The Canadian Press
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