L’ISLE-VERTE, Quebec — Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries filled a church Saturday to pay tribute to the 24 people who died, and the eight people still missing, after a fire burned down a seniors’ residence.

About 900 people, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, packed into the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.

“This is a very big tragedy,” Harper said after the mass. “It’s something that everybody can identify with. We all have or have had parents, grandparents, who become elderly, who are terribly vulnerable and when we see something like this, it just breaks the hearts of everybody. So I do hope that the community or the people here will take comfort in the thoughts and prayers from the people all across the country.”

Rev. Pierre-Andre-Fournier, archbishop of Rimouski, hailed the work of first responders in the Jan. 23 blaze.

“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.”


Robert Berube, whose mother Adrienne Dube is one of the missing, traveled 310 miles from Montreal.

“We’re still waiting,” he said before the service. “Every day we hope that she will be found.”

Others in the church included Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, New Democrat Party 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 killing 47.

Authorities have not yet determined what caused the senior’s residence fire.

Emergency crews have worked in sub-zero temperatures to recover bodies and evidence from the ruins.

Special machines to melt thick sheets of ice coating the structure have been used to help them gain access.

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