32 presumed dead in Quebec fire, 10 confirmed

An emergency worker walks past a sign that reads "Look out for our residents" as they search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. Five people are confirmed dead and 30 people are still missing, while with cause of Thursday morning's blaze is unclear police said.

An emergency worker walks past a sign that reads "Look out for our residents" as they search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. Five people are confirmed dead and 30 people are still missing, while with cause of Thursday morning's blaze is unclear police said.

L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) — Crews on Saturday recovered two more bodies as they struggled with frigid temperatures and ice as thick as two feet to search the ruins of a burned-out Quebec retirement home. Ten bodies of the 32 presumed dead have been recovered.

A massive blaze swept through the three-story building in L’Isle-Verte, about 140 miles northeast of Quebec City early Thursday. Quebec Provincial Police lowered the number of missing from about 30 to 22 based on more detailed information.

The coroner’s office identified two victims on Saturday, Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Laureat Dube, 82. A third person has been identified but his or her name will not be released until Sunday.

The cause of the blaze that burned down the Residence du Havre was under investigation, and police asked the public for any videos or photos that might yield clues. Quebec Police Lt. Guy Lapointe declined to confirm media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, describing it “is one hypothesis among many.”

“When you conduct an investigation of this magnitude, you have to determine all the facts and not simply just one or two in order to achieve a conclusion,” he said.

Frigid temperatures continued to hamper the search, with Lapointe saying the ice in certain places was as thick as two feet.

Search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air.

“You can imagine how difficult it is to go through the ice, melt it, and do it in a way that we preserve the integrity of potential victims,” he said. “So it’s very difficult work again today. It’s very cold.”

Officials said they would end the day’s search at 7 p.m. Saturday due to the difficult conditions and resume Sunday morning.

On Friday, teams of police, firefighters and coroners slowly and methodically picked their way through the ruins, working in shifts in the extreme cold with temperatures hovering around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).

As crews used steam to melt thick sheets of ice coating the rubble, Marc-Henri Saindon waited for his mother’s body to be recovered. Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, five months shy of her 100th birthday, had moved to the home on New Year’s Eve, her son said.

“She really liked it there. She was well treated and she had friends there,” Saindon said.

Spray from firefighters’ hoses left the home resembling a macabre snow palace, the ruins encased in thick white ice dripping with icicles. Workers took a break over night because of the freezing cold.

The tragedy cast such a pall over the village of 1,500 that psychologists were sent door to door.

“This is a horrible tragedy,” Mayor Ursule Theriault said.

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