Emergency workers continue the search for victims in L'Isle-Verte, Que. at the scene of a fatal fire at a seniors residence. Quebec provincial police say 24 people are now confirmed dead in a fire that ripped through a seniors' home last week. Ryan Remiorz/CP
Search crews resumed picking through the rubble of a seniors' residence in L’Isle-Verte, Que., Saturday, recovering the remains of three more victims, raising the official death toll of the tragic Jan. 23 fire to 27.
Five others are still considered missing by authorities and are presumed dead.
Search crews stopped their work mid-morning on Friday after uncovering some tangible clues as to the source of the fire.
“We decided to stop the search and ask a judge for a warrant,” said Lt. Michel Brunet of the Sûreté du Québec.
Sgt. Anne Mathieu of the SQ said early Saturday that the search had resumed, and that the 50-person team of workers and two specialists — an electrician and a chemist — would proceed with their work at the site of the fire.
Mathieu said that obtaining the warrant was a crucial step.
“If there are any criminal charges, then [evidence they gather] can be admissible during the trials,” she said.
Police have declined to speculate on reports that a cigarette might have caused the fire, saying it could take months to determine what happened.
Police, firefighters and officials from the coroner's office have used rakes, spades and brooms as they look for evidence in sub-zero temperatures.
Some actually sit on the ground in the black debris, raising gentle clouds of ash as they used their hands to examine the remains.
Special machines to melt thick sheets of ice coating the structure have been used to help them gain access.
The residence had 52 units and many of its occupants had limited mobility, needing wheelchairs or walkers to get around.
Health officials say the residence was fully compliant with regulations and had not received any complaints.
But it was only partially equipped with sprinklers, which are not required at privately run Quebec facilities where some residents are mobile.
Mass honours victims
Dignitaries and locals also paid tribute Saturday to the victims of the fire. Some mourners carried photos of the dead as they walked toward the stone church in L'Isle-Verte, a town of 1,500 people on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 230 kilometres northeast of Quebec City in eastern Canada.
About 900 people, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Pauline Marois and Gov. Gen. David Johnston, packed into the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.
They expressed their condolences publicly following the ceremony.
"It's a very beautiful place but a very big tragedy and something everyone can identify with. We all have or have had parents and grandparents who are elderly and more vulnerable and it just breaks the heart of everybody," Harper said.
L’Isle-Verte’s Mayor Ursule Thériault said she plans to take advantage of Harper’s presence to ask for help from the federal government.
“All types of aid for this catastrophe will be welcome,” Thériault said.
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