Tuesday 21 October 2014

Firefighters melt ice to retrieve bodies after Quebec blaze

Published 24/01/2014 | 20:31

Rescue personnel search through icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. Five people are confirmed dead and 30 people are still missing, while with cause of Thursday morning's blaze is unclear police said. Authorities are using steam to melt the ice and to preserve any bodies that are buried. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
Rescue personnel search through icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence
Firefighters continue to work at the scene of a fatal fire at a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte,Quebec, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The fire raged through the seniors' residence, killing at least three people and leaving about 30 unaccounted for. The massive fire in the 52-unit complex broke out around 12:30 a.m. in L'Isle-Verte, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)
Firefighters continue to work at the scene of a fatal fire at a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte,Quebec
A firefighter checks for gas leak as rescue personnel search through icy rubble to try to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. Five people are confirmed dead and 30 people are still missing, while with cause of Thursday morning's blaze is unclear police said. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
A firefighter checks for gas leak as rescue personnel search through icy rubble to try to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence

Canadian police and firefighters used steam machines on Friday to melt thick ice encasing the corpses of elderly people who died in a massive blaze that destroyed a wooden retirement residence in rural Quebec the day before.

Police said that five people died and about 30 were unaccounted for after the early morning blaze ripped through the Residence du Havre in the small community of L'Isle-Verte, about 230 km (140 miles) northeast of Quebec City.

A police official said severely cold weather was making working conditions difficult, and he did not know how soon police would be able to update the death toll.

"So many things could happen that we can't plan on - the cold is extreme, the equipment could freeze, we could run into other issues," said Guy Lapointe, spokesman for police in the eastern province of Quebec.

The ice formed after firefighters, working in temperatures that dropped as low as minus 22 Celsius (minus 8 Fahrenheit), spent many hours dousing the building with water. In some cases the resulting ice is one or two feet (30 to 60 cm) thick.

"The method that we're using now with regards to melting the ice is we're using steam," Lapointe said.

"The steam is being used for us to be able to advance at the scene, being able to preserve the integrity of potential victims."

The cold was so intense on Friday that teams of police, firefighters and coroner's office officials could only work in 45-minute shifts.

Police have not managed to track down all the residents who might have been in the building, and Lapointe said it is possible that nonresidents had been in the building.

Officials said they do not know what caused the fire and Lapointe appealed to local residents to provide any videos or pictures they may have taken after the fire started shortly after Wednesday midnight.

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