Officials have upped the death toll from a fire in L'Isle Verte to eight, an updated tally announced at a late-afternoon press conference Friday.

Late in the afternoon some names of victims began emerging, including that of Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, who was set to celebrate her 100th birthday in April. Gagnon had come to live at the residence just weeks earlier after living with family in Cacouna.

Her son said that his mother continued to have a sharp mind, so much so that he’d frequently phone him from his garage whenever he had a question. “She was the memory of the village,” said Marc-Henri Saindon, who said he had lost hope of her survival.

Meanwhile officials said that the hard work of accessing the frozen wreckage - much of which was done in painfully cold temperatures by chopping through thick ice - would continue until seven p.m. as three teams that worked up to 19 hours straight would be given a rest until Saturday at 7 a.m.

The eight bodies will be sent for medical examinations, some locally and others at the Montreal coroner's office.

About 30 people remain missing from the 53-person facility.

MP Francois Lapointe told CTV that the hope is that some of the missing are away on holiday or were spending the night with family members, but he anticipates that many of the missing will be found dead.

"Yesterday, I felt a certain energy in the community here, where everybody was only thinking 'Can I do something? Can I bring you a box of donuts (to the first responders)?'" he said. "Today, it's changing. People are slowly realizing we'll be facing grief, a real grief."

He added that while the town is hoping that some of the unaccounted people may have survived, the community is preparing for the worse.

Queen saddened

Queen Elizabeth II released a statement Friday saying she was “saddened to learn of the serious fire at the seniors’ residence.”

“The Duke of Edinburgh and I send our sympathy to the families of those who have died and our thoughts and prayers to all those who have been injured in this terrible event,” she said.

Meanwhile several neighbours who live nearby were offering accounts of their futile efforts to rescue residents who had made it onto balconies but were turned back by the flames.

Most of the people who lived in the home were quite elderly with limited mobility, relying on wheelchairs or walkers to get around. Some suffered from Alzheimers or dementia.

The water used to extinguish the flames and embers quickly froze solid, creating a coat of ice up to 40 cm thick. The ice, combined with bitterly cold temperatures of -18C Friday, made the work even more difficult.

Surete du Quebec officer Lt. Guy Lapointe said that three teams -- including firefighters, police, forensic specialists and members of the coroner's office -- scoured the wreckage as they searched for clues and the missing.

"The method that we're using now with regards to melting the ice, is we're using steam," said Lapointe. "The steam is being used for us to be able to advance on the scene without… to be able to preserve the integrity of potential victims."

Steam was used to melt the ice, a process meant to help preserve the area without causing more damage.

Meanwhile the immense amount of water used has forced L'Isle Verte officials to issue a boil-water advisory, and asked townspeople to reduce their water use until water levels can once again rise to a more normal level.

The owners of the facility, Roch Bernier and Irène Plante, issued their first media statement, expressing sympathies to the families of survivors. They said that it's too soon to decide whether or not to rebuild the facility.

Premier Pauline Marois also announced that she would return from Davis, Switzerland one day early to visit the site.

An event to commemorate the dead was announced for Sunday afternoon at the local church, which over 1,000 are expected to attend.

Sympathy and criticism

L'Isle Verte is a small village of 1,500 people about 30 km northeast of Riviere du Loup, and it seems many in town have direct ties to those affected by the fire.

Residents began leaving flowers and notes of sympathy at the seniors' residence on Thursday, even while firefighters were still dealing with hot spots.

The Red Cross is housing about 20 people and is asking for donations, which can be made by calling 1-800-418-1111 or at the Red Cross's website.

Veronique Hivon, the minister of Social Services, said Friday that teams of health workers are going door-to-door in the small community to see if people need help.

The door-to-door teams will also ensure residents are aware of the services being offered.

"It's very important to reach out to people, because in the first stages people are really in a state of shock, and most of them have a tendency to really just close themselves up," Hivon said. "Of course we don't want to force an intervention on them, but we want them to know that the services are there."

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard started visiting residens of L'Isle Verte Friday morning, offering his condolences and support.

Premier Pauline Marois announced Friday she was cutting short a trip to an economic conference in Switzerland and would be in L'Isle Verte on Sunday.

The quick spread of the fire, and the implication that it may be responsible for dozens of deaths, has led many to question the province's building code for seniors' residences.

Much of the building that was destroyed by flames was constructed in 1997 and did not have a sprinkler system. The parts of the building that are still standing were built in 2002 and did have a working sprinkler system.

Quebec Security Minister Agnes Maltais stressed that no action will be taken until the details of the fire’s cause are clearer. She added changes may occur later depending on the result of the inquiry into the cause and spread of the fire.

“We do believe they are well protected, but we always have to tighten the rules each time we see there’s a failure somewhere,” she said.

Was it safe?

Earlier on Friday, the provincial Minister of Social Services Veronique Hivon answered reporters' questions on whether the seniors' home met provincial safety regulations.

A document from the Quebec Health Department shows that the residence only had a sprinkler system installed in the newer part of the building that was built in 2002. The older part, which was built in 1997, had mostly burned down, while the newer part was mostly intact.

Hivon said the residence was in compliance with provincial regulations. In Quebec, sprinkler systems are only mandatory in seniors' homes that are four-storeys high or taller, or when the residents of the building are not fully autonomous, she said.

She also said the residence had a valid fire plan in place and had met the necessary fire drill requirements.

"Their last evacuation exercise was done totally in the time that is required," she said. "They did it in under eight minutes when they did the exercise."

She said that government officials will be reviewing these regulations in the wake of the fire.

The Residence du Havre was three-storeys high and had some occupants who were fully autonomous, and many more that had limited mobility. Caron, the acting mayor, said Thursday that some of the residents also had Alzheimer's disease.

Twenty people managed to leave the residence during the fire. A number were taken to hospital, including 13 people who had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning or fallen ill, paramedics said. Two police officers were hospitalized.