3 dead, 30 missing after fire at Quebec seniors' home

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 PM ET

L'ISLE-VERTE, Que. — Elderly residents screamed and tried in vain to escape a raging nursing home inferno that left five people dead and at least 30 missing in eastern Quebec on Thursday.

The death toll is expected to rise as firefighters continued to search the rubble for bedridden and wheelchair-bound seniors.

The disaster immediately raised safety questions. The Residence du Havre, which housed about 60 people, wasn't fully equipped with sprinklers.

The blaze broke out around 12:30 a.m. in the small town of L'Isle-Verte, about 230 km northeast of Quebec City.

Nelida Pettigrew, 90, narrowly escaped into -35 C weather before her apartment was engulfed in flames.

"I followed a man who left his room at the same time as me ... because we heard an alarm," she told QMI Agency.

She heard a voice that she assumes was a firefighter telling her to get out.

"He saved me," she said. "Had I been alone, I don't know what I would have done."

Another resident, Arnaud Cote, only had time to put on his coat and slippers after he heard the fire alarm.

He tried to get his neighbours out, but many didn't make it.

"I have saved three," he said through tears. "I wanted to go save others, but I couldn't."

Asked if he knew the people who were missing, Cote simply said, "We were all friends."

Witnesses said they saw people die after becoming trapped inside the three-storey wooden building.

"A woman on the second floor was screaming, she went out on the balcony," said Mario Michaud, who lives across the street. "Her son went to get a ladder, but he couldn't go to get her. She burned to death."

Christian Morin, a convenience store owner who lives next door, said he had just gone to bed when he heard a scream.

"I looked out the window and it was horrific," he said.

Morin and his wife went outside and began waking up neighbours. The fire was so intense they couldn't get near it.

"It was impossible," Morin said. "When I arrived, the front was on fire, and in 10 minutes the whole house was gone. There was nothing more to do."

Morin's aunt Odette and uncle Joe are among the missing.

One of the first responders said some residents had no way to use the stairs.

"We even had a patient who had thrown himself from an upper floor to save himself from the flames," paramedic Harold Lemelin said.

He said 14 people were taken to area hospitals to be treated for various injuries, including breathing problems. One person was sent to hospital in Quebec City in "grave" condition, a hospital official said.

Firefighters got the blaze under control by sunrise. About half of the building was destroyed.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire, but provincial police are investigating.

A Quebec health ministry inspection certificate indicates the owners said there were two overnight staff on duty during the week.

It also says 37 of the 60 residents were 85 or older.

— With files from Stephan Gendron, Jean-Louis Fortin, Francois Drouin

 

What they're saying about the L'Isle-Verte disaster:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

"On behalf of the entire country, I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who passed away following the fire at a seniors' residence in eastern Quebec. My thoughts and prayers are also with those who remain unaccounted for, and all those who have been injured. I have every confidence in the ability of the authorities to determine how this tragedy occurred and to take the necessary steps to prevent it from occurring again."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair:

"I am deeply saddened by the terrible fire that broke out at La Residence du Havre, leaving death and devastation in its wake. There are no words to express our shock when I think of the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and those who are still missing. I would also like to underline the courage and dedication of the firefighters who, despite the intense flames and danger to themselves, rescued residents in distress."

— With files from Stephan Gendron, Jean-Louis Fortin, Francois Drouin

Colette Roy-Laroche, mayor of Lac-Megantic, Que., where 47 people died in a train blast last summer:

"In Lac-Megantic...we are all very much with the community of L'Isle-Verte and we understand very well what they're living through."

 


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