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10 killed, 22 presumed dead in Quebec senior home fire

Ryan Remiorz / Canadian Press via AP

Investigators remove evidence as they search through the icy rubble Friday of a fire that destroyed a senior residence in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec.

Exhausted crews in Quebec on Saturday resumed their search through the remains of a senior home destroyed by a fire that killed 10 residents and left 22 missing and presumed dead.

"The conditions are very, very difficult,” police spokesman Lt. Guy Lapointe said in a televised briefing Friday. “Our people are exhausted.”

Police said Saturday they brought in de-icing equipment used by boats to help speed up the operation. Frigid temperatures continued to hamper the search, with Lapointe saying the ice in certain places was as thick as two feet. 

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

Crews took a break on Friday night, their first since the Thursday morning fire ripped through the Residence du Havre home in the small community of L’Isle-Verte, about 140 miles northeast of Quebec City. Working on 45-minute shifts because conditions were too cold to go longer, they had been using steam machines to melt thick ice covering the corpses of some of those killed.

Police now say 10 people are known to have died in the fire, with 22 believed to have perished in the inferno.

“I think we can assume the worst, but you have to understand that we're not going to confirm any deaths until we've actually recovered the remains," Lapointe said.

Originally police reported 30 missing, but noted it was unclear how many of the residents were in the building when the fire broke out. 

The search is on this morning for dozens of people still unaccounted for after a deadly fire blazed through a senior center in Quebec and killed at least five people. A fire chief called it a "night from hell." NBC's Katy Tur reports.

Few people in the town of fewer than 1,500 residents were untouched by the tragedy, CBC News reported.

Alphonse Gagnon, who lives across the street from the home, told the Canadian broadcaster that he and his wife, Yvette Michaud, knew many of the residents.

Gagnon said they saw a glow coming through some of the windows on Thursday morning.

“It was hard to look at. Everything was on fire ... I can’t even talk about it,” he told the CBC.

Officials said they did not know what caused the fire, and Lapointe asked residents and witnesses to hand over any videos or photographs taken after the fire broke out shortly after Wednesday midnight.

The disaster raised demands that Quebec make it mandatory for senior homes to be equipped with sprinkler systems. Only a part of the Residence du Havre had sprinklers, Reuters reported.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.