Icy task in resthome body hunt

Last updated 15:10 25/01/2014

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Rescue workers are using steam to melt the icy shell of charred, frozen debris that covers a Canadian nursing home, where they are searching for least 30 people still missing.

The death toll stood at five from the fire that swept through the nursing home for the elderly early on Thursday (local time) in eastern Canada, according to broadcaster CBC, which quoted Quebec provincial police. Most of the occupants had little or no mobility.

A thick coat of ice covered the ruins from the water used to douse the flames.

The Canadian news agency QMI and CBC reported that the nursing home in the village of L'Isle-Verte - northeast of Montreal - had been only partially equipped with sprinklers, which just recently have been required in large residences across Canada.

Provincial Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon said that the home was in line with safety regulations. Authorities were investigating.

"We don't know what happened," Hivon said, according to CBC.

The owners of the nursing home, Roch Bernier and Irene Plante, offered condolences to the families of the victims and thanked paramedics and other first responders.

"For Mr Bernier and Ms Plante, as owners of the Residence Le Havre and members of the community, this is a very emotionally charged event. They would like to assure the population of L'Isle-Verte that all efforts will be devoted to helping and co-operating with the authorities who are investigating and helping victims," they said in a statement.

The statement said that Bernier and Plante did not know yet if they would rebuild the home.

Witnesses told The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper that Plante was one of the people racing up and down the hallway, pounding on doors, after the fire broke out.

An estimated 50 to 60 seniors were living at the complex, and the administrators were still trying to determine how many people were still missing. Part of the building was spared fire damage.

When the fire broke out, local residents on the southern bank of the St Lawrence River rushed to the scene.

The local fire department is small and required help from neighbouring communities.

Ginette Caron, the village's acting mayor, said most of the residents were in wheelchairs or used walkers. Many suffered dementia, and most resided at the home because of special end-of-life care offered at the facility, Caron said.

Nine people were hospitalised in nearby Riviere-du-Loup after the fire. One was transported to a hospital in Quebec City.

- MCT

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