Firefighters Search The Ashes After Nursing Home Blaze

Firefighters are painstakingly combing the frozen rubble of a nursing home in eastern Quebec. The seniors' residence was quickly engulfed in flames shortly after midnight on Thursday, killing at least five residents and trapping dozens of others.

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Investigators and emergency crews are on the scene of a horrific fire in eastern Quebec. A senior citizens residence in the town of L'isle Verte became an inferno in the middle of the night. Eight people are confirmed dead and 30 are still unaccounted for. We have more from reporter Dan Karpenchuk.

DAN KARPENCHUK, BYLINE: Overnight, heavy specialized equipment was brought in to help investigators. This morning the gutted 52-unit seniors' residence resembled a macabre ice palace. And Leftenant Guy Lapointe of the Quebec Police says going through the debris is slow and painstaking work in minus-four-degree temperatures.

GUY LAPOINTE: The biggest issue for us now is the difficulty with the scene given the fact that a lot of water was used to put out the flames, given the fact that this water is frozen, that we're talking about a three-story building that has collapsed. And for us it's very important to go very delicately because we want to make sure to preserve potential victims that might have been inside the blaze.

KARPENCHUK: Twenty people were rescued from the burning building by firefighters, taken out through the back door in their pajamas and housecoats. But the fast moving blaze hampered rescue efforts. Many of the residents in their 80s were confined to wheelchairs and walkers. Grief counselors are on their way to L'isle Verte, a tight-knit community of 1,500. And Quebec's social services minister, Veronique Hivon, is urging people affected by the tragedy not to isolate themselves.

VERONIQUE HIVON: We will be reaching out to people, and we will be going into the streets, knocking on doors. We will be also going near the site to make sure that people who may not be asking for help, get the help.

KARPENCHUK: Francois Lapointe, a member of parliament, says this is a nightmare for residents of L'isle Verte.

LAPOINTE: I've talked with a social worker from (foreign language spoken) yesterday, who had to tell volunteer firefighter to take a break because they've been fighting a fire for, like, eight hours knowing that some of their relatives were inside.

KARPENCHUK: Investigators still don't know what caused the fire. And already there are other questions about whether the sprinkler system was working and why the fire spread so quickly. For NPR News, I'm Dan Karpenchuk.

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