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Confirmed death toll climbs to 17 in Quebec fire

January 28, 2014

L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (AP) — The official death toll from a fire that roared through a Quebec seniors’ residence last week climbed to 17 on Tuesday as emergency workers, some on their hands and knees, continued to comb through the ice-covered rubble.

Quebec provincial police also said 15 people were still missing and presumed dead after the sixth day of the excruciating recovery effort.

“We will keep going until all 32 people have been found,” Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet said.

Four people have been formally identified by the coroner’s office so far.

Weather has been a major hurdle, forcing crews to take regular breaks to warm up from the bone-chilling cold.

Special machines also had to be brought in to melt thick ice that coated the ruins after the fire. Police have had to approach the rubble carefully, not just to avoid harming any bodies within the structure but also to preserve evidence that may allow investigators to determine a cause for the blaze.

About 65 percent of the site has been examined. Brunet said it is difficult to say how long it will take to complete the effort because large hunks of debris have to be removed carefully.

The delicacy of the effort was reflected in the large construction shovels that have been brought in which carefully scratched at the ground to remove rubble.

Smaller tools such as rakes, brooms and spades were also being used by the workers, who also include pathologists from the Quebec coroner’s office.

Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Ann Mathieu says the searches are progressing well and about 50 people are combing the rubble of the building in teams.

Health and social services officials also said six people remain in hospital.

Provincial police also said the public has responded to their requests for any photos or videos taken of the fire and they will begin sifting through them in the coming days.

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