As a small Quebec village prepares to voice its collective grief after a fierce blaze at a seniors’ residence that claimed many lives, Premier Pauline Marois arrived in the community to grieve with them.
Ms. Marois arrived in L’Isle-Verte, Que., on Sunday to see the results of tragic fire first-hand.
Authorities have said 10 people are confirmed dead while 22 others are unaccounted for and are believed to have died.
Ms. Marois cut short a trip to Europe to be in the small village of 1,500, where an afternoon mass is scheduled at the local church to allow the community to grieve.
The premier called the brutal blaze “unacceptable” and hopes that such a tragedy never occurs again. She told a news conference that everything is being done to provide support for those who survived the fire and to give closure to those still awaiting word on their loved ones.
She met with the mayor and had a look at the scene of Thursday’s tragic fire.
The premier said her government is prepared to bring about any changes that are necessary to increase safety in residences, but she wants to see the results of the various investigations before rushing to judgment.
“First of all, we will wait for the inquiry because now, we don’t have the results of this evaluation and examination,” Ms. Marois said. “After that, we will see if there is some new rules to adopt.”
Ms. Marois said a working committee has been in place for one year studying a number of issues, including whether mandatory sprinklers are necessary in these types of buildings. The tragic events that unfolded at Residence du Havre last week will push her government to act even more quickly.
“If they recommend to us to change the rules, to change the laws and implement (mandatory) sprinklers, we will do that,” Ms. Marois said.
Speaking to a throng of reporters outside the church in L’Isle-Verte, Roch Bernier, owner of the seniors' residence, offered his condolences, but said it was not the right time to say whether he would rebuild the residence.
He said the mass, attended by more than 1,000 people, was a day for the victims, the missing and residents of the town.
Bernier received a standing ovation 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.”
Earlier Sunday, wind-driven snow put a halt to the search for remains in the rubble of the residence as intense winds blowing off the St. Lawrence whipped up light snowfall and reduced visibility to nearly zero.
Weather has posed a problem to the investigation and recovery effort since the beginning. The building rubble is encased in ice, and temperatures mostly hovering around -20 have slowed access to bodies and evidence.
Provincial police closed the main highway in the region just northeast of L’Isle-Verte, between Trois-Pistoles and Rimouski.
The Sûreté du Québec is interviewing the relatives of former residents of the home along with the owners and staff members while searching for a cause. Among their theories is that a smoker may have accidentally set off the blaze while sneaking a cigarette in the non-smoking home.
Father Gilles Frigon, who is organizing the service, said he is hoping first responders, victims’ families and survivors would gather to share their stories at the village’s imposing 168-year-old neo-gothic cathedral.
He invited survivors to bring photos of their dead to share at the service.
He said Ms. Marois could attend the service but he hoped it would be a “familial and intimate” event.
Quebec’s coroner officially identified two victims on Saturday: Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Lauréat Dubé, 82. The coroner also announced a third person’s identity would be released Sunday.
With a report from Les Perreaux