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Evidence suggests sisters on holiday died from accidental poisoning

Members of the close-knit community of Pohénégamook, Que. are mourning the deaths of two bright, popular young women from their town under mysterious circumstances at a beach resort half a world away in southern Thailand.

Noémi Bélanger, 26, and her sister, Audrey, 20, were on a getaway vacation on Phi Phi Island after wrapping up their studies for the year at Université Laval.

They were found dead in their ground-floor hotel room last Thursday night in circumstances that point to the possibility of accidental poisoning, perhaps from something they ate.

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Thai police said on Sunday they do not appear to have been murdered and that autopsies would be performed to determine the cause of death.

People in Pohénégamook, a small town on the Lower St-Lawrence near the Maine border, are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

"They were wonderful girls, good students, diligent, smart, socially engaged," said Isabelle Soucy, a fine-arts teacher who taught both women when they were students at the local high school, École Secondaire du Transcontinental.

"This has shaken up our community," she said.

Both women worked during the summer months in the Bonichoix grocery store owned by their father, Carl, and they often took part in town events, she said.

The Bélanger family – which also includes the mother, Linda and an older daughter, Elena – is very close and travels together a lot, said Ms. Soucy.

Noémi, who had a B.A. in psychology from Laval and was studying to be a dentist, had also travelled alone to developing countries to do humanitarian work, she said.

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Audrey was an undergraduate at Laval.

Townsfolk are deeply saddened by the deaths of two women who were in the bloom of life, but they are also tormented by unanswered questions, said Ms. Soucy.

"We're asking ourselves, if they were sick, why they didn't seek help?" she said.

The sisters were discovered in their room by a hotel maid. Police say they had been dead for about 24 hours and that there was blood on their faces and a lot of vomit in the room, signs of a possible toxic reaction.

Police said there were no signs of struggle or of a robbery or attempted robbery having taken place.

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Claude Rochon said Canadian consular officials in Bangkok are providing consular assistance to the family and are in contact with local authorities.

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But she said no further details can be released in order to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned.

The deaths are eerily similar to two unsolved deaths that occurred on the same resort island three years ago: two women, a Norwegian and an American, were found poisoned in adjoining rooms amid traces of vomiting. Their boyfriends also suffered some form of poisoning but survived.

Phi Phi, like its neighbour Phuket, is a popular holiday destination for young people in their 20s.

The island – made famous as the location for the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film, The Beach – has a reputation as being a popular spot for binge drinking.

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