L'ISLE-VERTE, Que. - Dignitaries and locals paid tribute Saturday to the victims of the fire that killed up to 32 people at a seniors' residence in the Quebec village of L'Isle-Verte last week.
About 900 people, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, packed into the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.
Pierre-Andre-Fournier, archbishop of Rimouski, hailed the work of first responders in the Jan. 23 tragedy as photos of many of the victims graced the church.
"It is difficult for you and I to realize what happened and what we're going through," Fournier told the congregation.
"Thirty-two members of our Christian community have left us tragically."
Local priest Gilles Frigon also paid tribute to the deceased in his homily.
"Nobody deserves to end their days in such a tragic way," Frigon said.
Twenty-four people have been declared dead and eight others are listed as missing.
Robert Berube, whose mother Adrienne Dube is one of the missing, travelled 500 kilometres from Montreal.
"We're still waiting," he said before the service. "Every day we hope that she will be found."
Berube said he can't go through the mourning process until her body is recovered and added he will stay in L'Isle-Verte as long as it takes.
Others in the church included Premier Pauline Marois, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, whose community was devastated last July when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the downtown core.
Forty-seven people died in that tragedy.
Marois requested that flags on government buildings fly at half-mast on Saturday.
Authorities have not yet announced the cause of the blaze.
Emergency crews have worked in sub-zero temperatures to recover bodies and evidence from the rubble of the seniors' home.
Special machines to melt thick sheets of ice coating the structure have been used to help them gain access.
The residence had 52 units and many of its occupants had limited mobility, needing wheelchairs or walkers to get around.
Mulcair said he spent the morning meeting with volunteer firefighters and Red Cross workers, including some he had met last summer in Lac-Megantic.
"It's extraordinary what's been put in place to help the community because it's not just the families and the loved ones of the victims that have been affected by this, but a whole community and a whole region," he said.
"It's a huge tragedy...and we've got to make sure that the aid continues after."
Trudeau said the fire is further proof of the need to protect the less vulnerable in society, particularly seniors.
"So, to be here with all levels of government, with all different political parties, reinforces the message that we understand that responsibility and it's also a sense of letting the people here in L'Isle-Verte know that people from across the country are thinking of them," he said.
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