L'Isle-Verte death toll climbs to 14, with 18 seniors still missing
Freezing temperatures and snow complicate recovery efforts at seniors residence
Quebec provincial police confirmed Monday afternoon that the death toll in L'Isle-Verte has climbed to 14, while 18 seniors are still considered missing.
Crews in L'Isle-Verte continue to search for the bodies of the missing after a deadly fire tore through a seniors residence just after midnight last Thursday.
Police on Sunday formally named three victims identified by the provincial coroner's office. They are:
- Marie-Lauréat Dubé, 82.
- Louis-Philippe Roy, 89.
- Juliette Saindon, 95.
Police investigators are dealing with cold, icy conditions as they canvass what remains of la Résidence du Havre.
On Monday morning, the –14 C temperature felt like –20 with the wind chill.
Search teams have been using steam to melt the thick layer of ice that coats the rubble.
Some media outlets have quoted staff members of the seniors home as suggesting a lit cigarette ignited the blaze, but police say there are other possibilities.
Psychological support available
Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert said the province is offering psychological support to those affected by the fire.
The people are shocked by what happened.- Réjean Hébert, Quebec health minister
“There are many victims of this tragedy — the people who escaped from the fire, but also the families who were very worried ... who woke up and saw the television and were worried about what happened to their relatives,” Hébert said, adding that he met with families of the victims.
“They were telling me their individual story. One resident was trying to escape from the balcony with sheets, and the sheets broke and he fell down from the second storey. The people are shocked by what happened.”
Psycho-social workers are in L’Isle-Verte now, meeting with residents.
Hébert said the psychological support is for emergency workers too, such as police officers and firefighters.
“This is a tough job. You are looking for people in the fire — people that you know personally, people from your family. It’s very tough and we should be aware that those people can have psychological distress,” he said.
“Those people who are caring for the victims at the moment should be congratulated because they are doing a very good job.”
Increasing calls for public inquiry
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said he'd like to see a coroner's inquest into the fatal fire in L'Isle-Verte.
This tragedy crosses the borders of Quebec.- Philippe Couillard, Liberal leader
Coroners generally prepare written reports on deaths they investigate, but they do have to power to hold public inquiries where witnesses can be called to testify.
Couillard said the fire has raised many questions about safety in seniors residences in Quebec — and across Canada.
“You saw up to what point this tragedy crosses the borders of Quebec, so I am in favour of a public inquest,” Couillard said.
Some say a coroner's inquest wouldn’t be enough.
The Quebec chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators suggested the government should convene its own public inquiry, similar to the Charbonneau or Gomery commissions.
“We’re going to see if the training of the people there is [sufficient]. They’re going to cover the sprinkler system — is it OK? We think that the public inquiry is going to go deeper and make sure that those things don't happen again," said the group’s vice-president, Bruno St-Onge.
Quebec’s Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron said he'll wait for results of the police investigation before deciding what to do next.
PM expected to visit
On Sunday, hundreds gathered in the community of L'Isle-Verte for a special mass to mourn the loss, with Premier Pauline Marois among those in attendance.
A more official memorial service is planned for next weekend.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he will be in L'Isle-Verte on Saturday to attend the special public mass.
With files from The Canadian Press