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32 believed dead in Quebec retirement home fire

L'ISLE-VERTE, Quebec--Crews pulled just two more bodies from the ice-covered rubble of a Quebec retirement home on the third day of the excruciating search, bringing to 10 the number of confirmed dead from a massive fire. The effort to recover another 22 people presumed killed will resume Sunday morning.

The cause of Thursday's blaze in the small town of L'Isle-Verte remains under investigation. There were media reports that the fire began in the room of a resident who was smoking a cigarette, but police said Saturday that was just one possibility among many.

“It could be a cigarette, it could be a small heater, it could be an electrical problem,” Police Lt. Michel Brunet said at a news conference. “We have to be sure at 100 percent.”

“We're going to take the time we need,” he added.

Frigid temperatures continued to hamper the search. Quebec Police Lt. Guy Lapointe said the ice in certain places was as thick as 60 centimeters.

Search teams brought in equipment normally used to de-ice ships that pushes out very hot air.

“You can imagine how difficult it is to go through the ice, melt it, and do it in a way that we preserve the integrity of potential victims,” Lapointe said. “So it's very difficult work again today. It's very cold.”

Officials said they would end the day's search at 7 p.m. Saturday due to the difficult conditions and resume Sunday morning.

A total of 10 bodies have been recovered. Quebec Provincial Police lowered the number of missing from about 30 to 22 based on more detailed information.

“I think we can all agree here today that the ... people who are still missing, I think we can assume the worst,” Lapointe said.

The coroner's office identified two victims on Saturday, Juliette Saindon, 95, and Marie-Laureat Dube, 82. A third person has been identified but his or her name will not be released until Sunday.

Teams of police, firefighters and coroners methodically picked their way through the ruins of Residence du Havre, working in shifts in the extreme cold.

Spray from firefighters' hoses had left the home resembling a macabre snow palace.

About 20 elderly residents survived the fire.

Some were moved to other residences for the elderly in the area, and the Red Cross had raised about CA$200,000 (US$180,000) to provide clothes, hearing aids, wheelchairs and other urgent needs.

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