L'ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) — Fire raged through a seniors' residence in eastern Quebec on Thursday morning, killing three people and leaving about 30 unaccounted for. Officials fear the death toll will climb.
The massive fire in the 52-unit complex broke out around 12:30 a.m. ET in L'Isle-Verte, a small town of 1,500 people about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Quebec City.
Initial reports said 20 residents had been transported to safety, but it was unclear just how many residents were missing in the inferno. Quebec Provincial Police Sgt. Ann Mathieu said Thursday authorities were trying to determine the exact number of victims and learn the cause of the blaze.
"About 31 people are on the list of people that Quebec police are looking for. This is very bad news because they have challenges moving around. It is very bad news," said Francois Lapointe, the member of Parliament for the area. "We're down to hoping that some of those 31 people were not there."
He said it will take about two or three hours for officials to go through what's left of the building.
"The volunteer firefighters did everything they could. They basically couldn't save some people they could hear or see and that's really tough," Lapointe said.
Lapointe said one man could see his mother on a balcony but could not rescue her.
Acting mayor Ginette Caron said many of unaccounted were confined to wheelchairs and walkers, noting that only five residents in the center were fully autonomous. She said some had Alzheimer's disease.
Mario Michaud, who lives across the street from the building, said he witnessed the unfolding drama shortly after midnight.
"I got up to go to the toilet and I saw smoke," Michaud told local newspaper Info Dimanche.
"The fire had started on the second floor. I woke up my girlfriend and called 911. I saw the firefighters and they got to work. A woman on the second floor was shouting and she went out on to the balcony. Her son went to get a ladder but he couldn't get to her. She burned to death."
Local chief firefighter Yvon Charron called it "a night from hell."
At least three people were injured in the blaze. The extent of their injuries was unclear
The building was home to more than 50 people and also housed a social agency, a pharmacy and a hair salon.
Several fire departments in the region were called in to help extinguish the blaze, which completely destroyed the building.
The fire comes just six months after 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train with 72 oil tankers derailed and exploded in the small community.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted Thursday that his thoughts and prayers go out to the "families and friends of those lost in this morning's horrific fire in L'Isle-Vert."
In 1969, a nursing home fire in the community of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec, claimed 54 lives.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report
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