Death toll in Que. retirement home fire rises to 5
Published Thursday, January 23, 2014 6:06AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 23, 2014 11:09PM EST
Five people are now confirmed dead following a devastating fire at a seniors' home in Quebec.
Quebec provincial police said late Thursday that about 30 residents are still missing after an overnight fire at the Residence du Havre in the town of L'Isle-Verte, around 230 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Police received a call about the fire at around 12:35 a.m. ET. The fire quickly spread, destroying the residence, before it was brought under control at around 5 a.m. ET.
A number of residents were taken to hospital, including 13 people who had carbon monoxide poisoning or fell ill, paramedics said. Among the first responders, two police officers were hospitalized, authorities said.
The town's acting mayor Ginette Caron said only five residents who lived at the Residence du Havre were fully autonomous.
She told reporters Thursday morning that most of the residents could not get around on their own and are dependent on wheelchairs and walkers. Some of them also had Alzheimer's disease, she said.
Bilodeau said about 20 residents were taken away from the residence in L'Isle-Verte. The residents were taken to a local school and the injured were taken to nearby hospitals, she said.
Bilodeau said that police are hoping that some of the home's residents were staying with relatives for the night or were away on holiday. Police are asking for family members who know of a resident's whereabouts to contact them at 1-800-659-4264.
Emergency officials are now trying to sift through the charred seniors’ home, but a thick coating of ice has formed on the site in bitterly cold temperatures. Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Surete Du Quebec said efforts are underway to remove the ice.
Robert Berube told CTV Montreal that his mother lived at the Residence du Havre and is one of the residents who is still missing. Berube drove from Montreal to L’Isle-Verte as soon as he heard the news.
"My mother, she's blind," he said. "She's still there… I can't believe it… I don’t know how to handle it."
Witnesses told CTV Montreal that one of the home's residents went to a balcony and called for help, but rescuers couldn't reach her.
Caron, the acting mayor, later said that she’s in “constant communication” with the town’s mayor, who is away on vacation and expected to return Friday. She also asked for patience as rescue and emergency crews do their work.
Firefighters from four nearby municipalities were called to the scene to help. Quebec provincial police have since taken over the investigation. They are likening the fire to the Lac-Megantic train rail disaster, and say they'll be working with many different partners as the investigation proceeds.
Built in 1997, the residence also contained a social agency, pharmacy and a hair salon.
Condolences pour in for L’Isle-Verte
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois addressed the tragedy in Davos, Switzerland, where she is attending the World Economic Summit.
"I want to extend my condolences to all the families affected by this terrible fire," she said. "I have been in touch with my office and we are doing everything we can to support the community and families.
"It's a private centre but we're talking about human beings, so we'll do whatever we can. I am deeply saddened by this event."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was travelling in Jordan on Thursday, told reporters that all levels of government were sending their condolences to the small community.
"Obviously in a community like that it's going to touch just about every single family," he said. "All members of our government want to express our condolences for this terrible loss of life."
Harper said Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney will be heading to L'Isle-Verte to represent the government as police continue their investigation.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston issued a statement saying that he and his wife, Sharon, were keeping the town in their thoughts and prayers.
"We have no doubt that the community will come together to support each other through this terrible tragedy," he said. "Time and again we have seen the strength of Canadians, and we want the people of L’Isle-Verte to know that we stand with them during this difficult time."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau thanked first responders and said he was thinking of the small community.
"What tragic news coming from L'Isle-Verte this morning," Trudeau said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the many families affected and we hope that the situation will be under control as quickly as possible."
Relatives of the home's residents are asked to call 418-868-1010 for information. Police have also established an information hotline at 1-800-659-4264.
With files from CTV Montreal’s Annie DeMelt and The Canadian Press