Four children and a man in his thirties have died after a group of 11 people were swept away by the rising tide while fishing near Portneuf-sur-Mer in Quebec’s North Shore, provincial police said Saturday.
Six people were rescued after police received a call around 2 a.m. on Saturday, said Stéphane Tremblay, a spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec.
The provincial police said earlier on Saturday that the children – all aged older than 10 – were found unresponsive and were taken to a local health centre. Hours later they announced the children had died. A man in his thirties was found hours later in the river and pronounced dead at a hospital.
The group was fishing capelin, a small silvery fish, by foot in the Gulf of St-Lawrence when they were swept away by the tide, Mr. Tremblay said.
Capelin - a silvery smelt fish - are a forage species consumed by many marine animals, and fishing for them is a popular activity in his part of Quebec’s north shore. It is done on the banks of the river using scoops rather than fishing lines. Capelin most often roll at night, so people light a fire on the shore and wait.
Portneuf-sur-Mer Mayor Jean-Maurice Tremblay said local residents were first on the scene and were able to assist in rescuing six people. He said the victims, who have not yet been publicly identified, were not from Portneuf-sur-Mer but from somewhere else in the region.
The mayor said the sandbank where the group went fishing can become partially submerged by the tides. He said the group appeared to have been caught off guard by the rising tide.
“There was little or no possibility of returning to their starting point, so they were like prisoners,” Mr. Tremblay said in a phone interview. He said it was unclear why the victims could not stay put on the part of the sandbank that was still above water.
A Canadian Hydrographic Service tidal station in Portneuf-sur-Mer had predicted the high tide would reach 4.1 metres around 2 a.m. Saturday.
The search for the missing man involved divers from the Sûreté du Québec, police officers on ATVs and boats, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and a Coast Guard helicopter. Police said they have launched an investigation into the incident.
Portneuf-sur-Mer resident Robert Kennedy said he regularly sees people going on a sandbank in front of his home to fish capelin at night during this time of the year. Mr. Kennedy, 82, said he had never heard of any accidents before and has himself been fishing there many times, but noted that it could still be dangerous.
“When the tide rises, if it’s a 13-foot (3.9-metre) tide like last night, it can be dangerous … you cannot come back when the tide is high,” he said in a phone interview.
Bloc Québécois MP for Manicouagan Marilène Gill posted on Twitter that her thoughts were with the local community. “As a mother, my heart is with you,” she wrote in French, and said her office was available to help.
Yves Montigny, the Coalition Avenir Québec MNA for provincial riding René-Lévesque, said on Twitter he was devastated by the tragedy and sent his condolences to the victims’ families and the community.
With files from Canadian Press