L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec — The owner of a Quebec seniors’ residence that burned to the ground offered his condolences Sunday to the families of the 32 people feared dead as search crews had trouble recovering any more bodies in the ice-covered rubble due to the frigid temperatures and swirling snow. Officials have so far have recovered 10 bodies.
A Sunday afternoon Mass gave residents of the Quebec town of L’Isle-Verte a chance to gather together to share their grief. Father Gilles Frigon, the town’s Catholic priest, called it “a step toward healing” and invited relatives and friends to bring photos of the victims.
Roch Bernier, the owner of the Residence du Havre, received a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 people in attendance as he stood up to speak at the Mass.
“What you’re living inside, we are living it inside as well,” he told the gathering. “We will try to find the strength to get through this.”
“That gentleman there showed tremendous courage,” said Mayor Ursule Theriault as she wiped away tears at a news conference.
“He’s been deeply affected by this, but he spoke to us, and I think that’s what marked me the most today.”
The cause of Thursday’s blaze remains under investigation. There were media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but police said that was just one possibility among many.
Quebec police said poor visibility, blowing snow and frigid conditions forced authorities to temporarily suspend searches early Sunday – the fourth day of the excruciating search. Police later resumed the search, a day after the remains of only two more people were pulled from the rubble.
“It makes the work quite difficult. We had to make our rotations shorter because it was very cold out there,” Quebec police Lt. Guy Lapointe said.
On Saturday, search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air to melt down ice that police said was 2 feet thick in certain places.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois cut short a trip to Europe to visit L’Isle-Verte on Sunday, where she met with the mayor and went to the scene of Thursday’s fire.
The premier said that everything is being done to provide support for those who survived and to give closure to those still awaiting word on their loved ones.
The tragedy has devastated the town of 1,500 people 140 miles northeast of Quebec City.