The official death toll from a fire that roared through a Quebec seniors’ residence last week climbed to 14 on Monday as emergency workers continued to comb through the ice-covered rubble, reports the Associated Press.
Quebec provincial police also said 18 people were still missing and presumed dead after the fifth day of the excruciating recovery effort.
Police and firefighters used special machines that pump out hot air to melt thick ice coating the ruins.
The work has been slow and painstaking, with workers being given periodic breaks as they brave bitterly cold temperatures and strong winds in L’Isle-Verte, a town 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight Thursday and spread quickly through the 52-unit residence. Many of the elderly occupants had limited mobility and needed canes, wheelchairs or walkers to get around. One woman was reportedly blind.
Some relatives who raced to the scene to help out said they saw their family members die as they pleaded for help from balconies.
Provincial police say they have interviewed about 100 witnesses. There were media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but police said that was just one possibility among many. No exact cause of the fire has yet been determined.
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