Pauline Marois, Quebec’s premier, called the deadly fire at a seniors’ home in L’Isle-Verte an “unacceptable” tragedy but urged caution when it came to speculation of the causes.
Marois made the comments while visiting the grieving town of 1,500 on Sunday. Marois spent the afternoon visiting with families affected by Thursday’s fire, which killed 10 people and left another 22 seniors missing and presumed dead.
The premier said the point of her visit was to express her support and solidarity for the families of the dead and missing.
"At moments like this, it's really only empathy that can help, there's not a lot else you can do other than to let them know you feel their loss and pain," she said.
At a brief press conference, Marois said it was vital to let investigators do their work and not to jump to hasty conclusions about the causes of the fire.
"We will determine the cause and whether rules were followed," she said.
She also pointed to a provincial working group that was established last year to assess regulations governing safety in different types of buildings around the province, including its seniors' homes.
"This event will prompt us to go even faster on the development of recommendations to ensure this kind of tragedy does not happen again," she said.
Police confirmed yesterday that the fire killed 10 and that another 22 are missing.
A third victim, Louis-Philippe Roy, 89, was formally identified by the provincial coroner's office on Sunday afternoon.
Two of the victims were formally identified yesterday. They are Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Lauréat Dubé, 82.
When asked what the provincial government was planning in terms of aid to L'Isle-Verte, Marois said those needs have to be determined and it was too early to talk about financial support.
She also thanked the recovery teams that are combing the icy ruins for the missing.
Marois was joined in L’Isle-Verte by Philippe Couillard, leader of the Quebec’s Liberal Party, and his colleague, Marguerite Blais, the party’s critic for seniors.
Blais described the loss of so many senior citizens as an devastating blow to the community, and Quebec.
'When we think of our parents, we can’t imagine their lives ending this way.' - Philippe Couillard, leader of the Quebec’s Liberal Party
“These were senior citizens who built Quebec,” she said, referring to those lost as a “immense library” of knowledge and history.
Couillard said he couldn’t help think of his 82-year-old mother.
“When we think of our parents, we can’t imagine their lives ending this way.”
The politicians joined families and friends of the victims at the town’s gothic St-Jean Baptiste de L’Isle-Verte cathedral for a private mass at 2 p.m. local time. Father Gilles Frigon, the church’s pastor, called the intimate service a first step in the long road to healing hearts broken by the tragedy.
Owner gets standing ovation
Inside the 160-year-old building, the pews were filled to capacity and more people stood at the back, craning their necks to see those addressing the crowd.
Photos of the dead and missing were affixed to a display near the altar.
People held hands and embraced during the 90-minute service that included speeches from members of the community as well as a sermon by Frigon.
Frigon, who has struggled to maintain his composure when speaking publicly in the days following the tragedy, again broke down in tears as he described how the heart of the community has been ripped open and left raw by the loss of some of its most vulnerable citizens.
He said it’s through their collective suffering that the community can appreciate how much its members are loved and valued.
Among those attending the service was Roch Bernier, owner of the Résidence du Havre. He was invited to address the mass and was given a standing ovation.
Outside of the mass, which was closed to reporters, he said he came to offer his condolences and show his solidarity with the community.
"My thoughts are with the missing, with the community, because it's my community," he said.
Briefing sessions planned
Police have met with about 100 witnesses, including ambulance workers, firefighters and civil service workers, Lt. Guy Lapointe of the provincial police force said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
The coroner's office said it is working with the provincial police to develop a place for families affected by the disaster to mourn together. The coroner will also be available every day to meet with family members from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time.
Twenty social workers are currently on site to provide counselling services, officials said at the news conference. In addition, starting Monday evening, they will hold briefing sessions for what officials describe as "primary clienteles," such as family members of the victims, employees of the seniors' residence, as well as people who have witnessed the fire.
Briefing sessions will also be available to first responses in the coming days, officials said.
Recovery operations in the frozen rubble of the Résidence du Havre seniors’ home in L’Isle-Verte resumed Sunday afternoon after being brought to a temporary halt in the morning due to high winds and blowing snow in the area.
Quebec’s provincial police suspended the search around 8 a.m. ET due to the difficult weather conditions, including a wind chill that felt like –30 C.
The halt, however, did not interrupt the running of de-icing equipment brought in to thaw the thick ice that now coats the ruins. That equipment, normally used to de-ice ships, was running Sunday morning under tarps covering the search site and additional equipment is said to be on the way.