Support services being offered to people affected by L'Isle-Verte fire

MONTREAL – The seniors forced out of their residence by a devastating fire in L’Isle-Verte are in dire need of such items as clothes, hearing aids, and wheelchairs, the Red Cross says.

The relief agency first issued an appeal for donations, hoping to raise $50,000 to help those stricken by the blaze at the Residence du Havre this week. As of Saturday, the new objective of $200,000 had been reached.

“Because they left their residence so quickly, they left with nothing,” said Myrian Marotte, a Red Cross spokeswoman. “We’re looking at providing them with those very urgent articles.”

The fast-moving blaze struck the facility shortly after midnight on Thursday and raged through the building. Eight people have been confirmed dead and 24 are missing, Quebec provincial police said Saturday.

Many of the residents were over 85 and all but a handful had limited movement, being confined to wheelchairs and walkers. Some suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Marotte said in a telephone interview from L’Isle-Verte that thick smoke from the blistering fire also enveloped nearby homes, prompting the fire department to order them evacuated.

She said about 20 people — two groups of seniors and some people from the homes — came to the centre set up by the Red Cross as firefighters battled the blaze in frigid temperatures.

The Red Cross team offered moral support but also set about establishing how best to help the evacuees.

The people who had to leave their houses have been quartered in motels while the seniors were placed in other residences for the elderly in the area.

“In fact, the emergency plan of the (Residence du Havre) was pretty well done and they already had two other places where they give shelter to the seniors,” Marotte said. “Everyone now is in a safe place and a warm place.”

Red Cross volunteers continued to meet with the seniors and the others affected on Friday as needs were continually re-evaluated.

“It’s very difficult to go through such an event,” Marotte said. “It is a very big tragedy. It is also a small community so everyone is affected by that because everyone knows everyone. They’re directly touched by that. There’s a lot of solidarity.”

She said the Red Cross is working closely with other authorities on the scene, including health authorities, to make sure psychological counselling and other specialized support is available. Housing the seniors in another residence also ensures they get what they need.

“They are a vulnerable group of people,” Marotte said. “They have specific requirements so that’s why being in another residence is the best for them because they can have the kind of same support that they had at their previous residence.”

The Red Cross brought in teams from the area to help out but Marotte said because all volunteers receive the same training, reinforcements can be imported from other regions if they are needed.

The Quebec government is also ensuring that counselling and other support is being made available. Workers are going door-to-door to make sure residents in L’Isle-Verte know what’s available.

“We’re dealing with a very vulnerable, fragile population,” said junior social services minister Veronique Hivon. “The elderly who had to be relocated are really going through a very important trauma right now.”

Hivon said the extreme cold means there is a greater danger of people retreating into themselves than in the aftermath of last July’s deadly train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que.

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