US & Canada

Rescuers to resume searching Quebec old-people's home

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Media captionBBC's Colm O'Molloy: "Only half the building had sprinklers installed"

Canadian rescuers will resume their search on Saturday morning for up to 30 old people missing after fire destroyed their retirement home.

Officials confirmed that eight people had died in Thursday's blaze, and crews were struggling in temperatures of -21C (-6F) in the town of L'Isle-Verte.

Rescuers suspended work overnight and will resume at 07:00 (12:00 GMT).

The ruins of Residence du Havre have collapsed and are frozen over with a thick layer of ice from fire hoses.

The deadly fire broke out about 05:30 GMT on Thursday.

Investigators are keeping an open mind as to the cause, but Canadian broadcaster CBC quoted unnamed sources as saying that the fire had stared in the room of a resident who had earlier been refused permission to go outside to smoke.

Many of the missing used wheelchairs or walking frames.

'Preserve victims'

Several fire departments were called to the town, 225km (140 miles) east of Quebec City, to help extinguish the fire, which was fanned by strong winds.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police believe about 30 people are still missing following Thursday's fire
Image copyright AP
Image caption Workers battled against debris which had frozen solid in frigid temperatures

Emergency crews were able to save about 20 of the home's 52 residents, at least 13 of who were treated at hospital.

Teams of police and firefighters searched the debris in 45-minute shifts to minimise exposure to the cold, using tools that produced steam to melt the ice coating the ruins.

Officials have not confirmed more than eight deaths, but it is unlikely that anyone will be found alive in the frozen ruins of the home.

Investigators are not ruling anything out in the hunt for the cause of the blaze, and are seeking anyone with photos or videos of the fire.

Most of the residents were over 75 years old, and 37 were over 85 years old.

Many were infirm and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and only five were fully mobile and autonomous, L'Isle-Verte's acting Mayor Ginette Caron told reporters on Thursday.

The BBC's Colm O'Molloy, reporting from L'Isle-Verte, says no-one in town is voicing the likelihood that many of the missing are likely dead, despite it being more than 36 hours after the blaze.

Retired police officer Pierre Filion, who had a cousin and an aunt living in the residence and who lives nearby, said the tragedy had shaken the tightly knit community.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Authorities continued to search for missing residents, many of whom were over 85 years old

"It's going to take a long time to start living normally," said Mr Filion, whose missing relatives are both in their 70s.

Jean-Eudes Fraser told CBC he rushed to the building, pulling himself up from the top of a ladder to help his mother, who was trapped on her balcony.

But as the fire quickly spread, he realised the ladder was too short for him and his mother to climb down.

"I had to decide if I was going to die with her or go back down myself," he told CBC. He said by the time he returned with a taller ladder, she was dead. "I had to make a decision. It was not easy."

The worst-ever fire in a Canadian nursing home occurred in Notre-Dame-du-Lac in Quebec, in 1969, when 54 people died.

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