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From Lac-Mégantic to L’Isle-Verte, coroner faces grim task of talking to victims’ relatives

Emergency workers dig through the remains at the site of the Residence du Havre in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, Jan. 28, 2014.

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

A coroner who helped grieving families in Lac-Mégantic, Que., has turned to the same grim task in the small town where a fire devastated a seniors home last week.

The questions being asked by the families of the 32 victims of the fire at the Résidence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte, Que., are as personal as they are painful.

Children often seek the same answers about their parents, Coroner Andrée Kronstrom said. Where were their parents when they died? Did they suffer?

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"I'm here to tell the truth. It's very important for them to know what happened to their families, even if it's hard sometimes," Dr. Kronstrom told reporters on Wednesday.

Her work offers a glimpse into the crushing emotional toll of two successive disasters in Quebec in less than seven months.

Dr. Kronstrom spent a month in Lac-Mégantic last summer speaking to each of the 47 families touched by the death of a relative in the explosion of a runaway train. Now, she is partnering with Coroner Renée Roussel in the wake of the blaze that left 32 people dead or missing in L'Isle-Verte and has prompted calls for a public inquiry.

Although many of the victims of last Thursday's fire are elderly and many in Lac-Mégantic were young, it doesn't lessen the pain, Dr. Kronstrom said. "Regardless of whether they're elderly or young, it's a drama each time," she said. "It's the same suffering, the same pain you're dealing with. It's universal."

The number of deaths rose on Wednesday afternoon to 19, with 13 missing.

Though families ask to see the bodies of loved ones, only two were in a state to be shown to their relatives, Dr. Kronstrom said. They were found outside the residence.

Some relatives, like Jacques Bérubé, turn up routinely at the site of the fire, waiting until their parent's remains are found.

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Mr. Bérubé said he travels two hours morning and night from his home to be there for word about his mother, Adrienne Dubé.

"It's nothing, compared with my mother went through," he said at the side of the highway, near where his mother's home once stood. "She suffered. I need to be here."

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