Firefighters walk past the Residence du Havre after the fire. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
At least three people died and 30 are missing after a fire
ripped through a wooden three-storey residence for the
elderly in the Eastern Canadian province of Quebec overnight,
Fanned by high winds, the fire engulfed the Residence du
Havre in the small community of L'Isle-Verte on the south
shore of the St. Lawrence River about 230km northeast of
Acting Mayor Ginette Caron said many of the residents had
used wheelchairs or walkers. According to a document filed
with the Quebec health ministry, the residence was home to 52
people, 37 of whom were 85 or older.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight (local time) and
was extinguished about five hours later. At midday, clouds of
smoke still billowed from the residence, more than half of
which was completely burned to the ground.
Police told reporters at noon that they still had not been
able to get into the ruins. They kept media some 75 meters
(80 yards) from the scene.
Undamaged parts of the building were covered in icicles and
thick sheets of ice, testament to temperatures that dropped
as low as minus 22 Celsius (minus 7.6 Fahrenheit).
"Right now 30 people are missing. Three are confirmed dead,"
Quebec police spokeswoman Ann Mathieu told a televised
"That does not necessarily mean 30 people have lost their
lives. It's possible that some were relocated with other
people. Some might be away with their families," she said.
The document filed with the Quebec health ministry said the
residence had a partial sprinkler system. The residence's
website said it had a sprinkler system but gave no details.
Eyewitness Pascal Fillion told public broadcaster RDI that at
1 a.m. a large part of the building was already on fire, due
in part to the high winds.
"There was one person we saw, who they wanted to save, but he
was on the top floor, and with the fire and the wind they
weren't able to come any closer," Fillion said.
Video footage of the blaze showed huge sheets of flame
leaping into the air.
The residence's website says the building was built in 1997
and expanded in 2002, and that it had sections for people who
were independent and semi-independent, and for those who
needed more assistance.
The ambulance service said 13 people had been taken to
hospital. Public broadcaster RDI said a further 16 had been
transported to other locations.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said she was "deeply saddened"
by the tragedy and sent several government ministers to the
site to offer assistance.
One man described to RDI how his grandmother had called for
help from a second-floor balcony and said efforts to reach
her by ladder failed. "She died on the balcony," he said, his
Last July, 47 people died when a train carrying crude oil
derailed and exploded in the middle of the Quebec town of
Lac-Megantic, about 400 km southwest of the site of