While some residents of picturesque Morin Heights, Que. spent Thursday mourning the loss of three of their own after a deadly roof collapse, others were busy clearing the snow from their own roofs, hoping to avoid a similar disaster.

Employees of Gourmet du Village, the site of Wednesday's warehouse collapse, remembered Barbara Elliott, 54; Sharon Kirkpatrick, 62; and Marilyn Ofiaza, 46, as devoted workers who were well liked, and active members of the local Optimists Club.

"We're like one big family, so it's a sad sight," said Raymond Tapp. "Three people are dead and it's not an easy time."

Joy Kirkpatrick, a relative of Sharon Kirkpatrick, said she will be missed by everyone who knew her.

"(She was a) very nice person," she told CTV Montreal. "She was shy but she was nice... It's quite a loss. It's going to affect everybody in town."

The collapse occurred on early Wednesday afternoon, when about 40 people were in the building. All but three people managed to escape. The victims were crushed in the accident.

Joy Kirkpatrick also knew Barbara Elliott, an employee of the warehouse for more than 20 years.

"She's had a hard life," said Kirkpatrick. "She didn't have an easy life at all."

Ofiaza was remembered as a quiet and hardworking mom who cared deeply for her two teenage sons, who are now left without a caregiver.

"We'll see what we can do for them," Mayor Michel Plante told The Canadian Press.

Grief counsellors were present to help the workers deal with the shock. In addition to losing three popular colleagues, they are now without jobs. The biggest employer in the town of 3,000, the warehouse employed up to 150 workers during peak times.

The town's mayor says the healing process will be difficult.

"It's not easy," said Plante. "There are a lot of tears, but we have professionals in place and things are starting to move."

The town's rural church, normally closed during winter, is expected to be opened for funerals next week.

Investigators are still looking into the cause of the collapse, but many local residents suspect it was due to snow accumulation.

Warning signs

On Thursday, workers were busy shovelling snow on rooftops throughout the town and the Laurentian region, about an hour from Montreal. Fears of another disaster closed multiple schools and shopping malls, including one elementary school that saw its roof attacked by an army of 30 shovellers. A school board northeast of the city announced its schools would remain closed on Friday as a precaution.

About 50 centimetres of snow had fallen in the small community over the weekend. Workers say someone was called in to clear rooftop snow, but the person did not arrive in time.

Some employees have said they head a cracking sound shortly before the collapse.

Police are considering the location a crime scene and investigators spent Thursday sifting through the snowy rubble, guarded by Quebec provincial police. Authorities strongly suspect the snow caused the cave-in, but are looking for other possible triggers as well.

After the collapse, a small fire started as a result of faulty electrical wires but the flames were quickly doused by firefighters. Smoke could still be seen billowing from the building Wednesday afternoon.

Firefighters discovered the women by sifting through the debris with a mechanical shovel. They were taken to hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival.

The Quebec workers' health and safety commission is asking anyone concerned about the stability of their workplace's roof to let them know.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Montreal's Caroline Van Vlaardingen