Grief-stricken Quebec town mourns victims of retirement home blaze

Sat Feb 1, 2014 2:03pm EST
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By Louise Egan

L'ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (Reuters) - About 900 mourners in the small grief-stricken Quebec town of L'Isle-Verte attended a public mass on Saturday for the 32 people feared dead from a fire that ripped through a wooden retirement home.

Somber-faced friends and relatives sat in the town's large 19th-century Roman Catholic church to hear prayers and tributes to victims of the January 23 blaze, one of the worst disasters to hit a Canadian residence for the elderly.

"Lord, we are all gathered in the same pain, in this deep suffering that breaks our hearts," said Pierre-Andre Fournier, archbishop of the nearby town of Rimouski.

Among those attending the nationally televised ceremony were Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. Governor-General David Johnston came as the personal representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state.

At the front of the church stood special boards covered with large photos of 31 of the victims, as well as children's drawings. Mourner also brought bouquets of flowers, cards and handwritten letters.

Of the 52 people inside the three-story Residence du Havre when the fire erupted, 37 were 85 or older, and many needed wheelchairs and walkers. Some had Alzheimer's disease, town authorities say.

Pope Francis sent his condolences to L'Isle-Verte on Thursday.

"These people are very dear to us," said local priest Gilles Frigon. " ... They did not deserve to end their days so tragically.   Continued...

Pictures of victims of the Residence du Havre fire are displayed during a memorial ceremony at the Decollation-de-Saint-Jean-Baptiste church in L'Isle Verte, Quebec, February 1, 2014. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger