Police in the Canadian province of Quebec said Thursday that an estimated 30 people remain missing after a fire in a home for seniors in the town of L'Isle-Verte. At least three people are known to have died in the blaze.

Quebec police spokesman Guy Lapointe said at a press conference that rescue efforts are being made difficult by the low temperatures that have caused the water sprayed by firefighters on the ruins of the building to freeze.

The fire broke out about 12:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) when temperatures were -19 C (-2 F) and the fact that they have remained quite low throughout the day has forced rescue teams to work in shifts of just one hour each.

Lapointe said that the bodies of the victims that might be found among the ruins are trapped in the frozen water there and the priority now is to "take care of the victims" more than to quickly recover the bodies.

He also refused to speculate about the possible cause of the fire or to say whether the 30 missing people have been given up for dead.

Lapointe said that there were 52 units in the residence and authorities do not know how many people were in the building at the time of the fire.

He did, however, confirm that 20 elderly residents of the building were rescued immediately after the fire was detected, adding that 10 survivors and two police officers were hospitalized.

Witnesses of the blaze told the media that relatives and neighbors were unable to rescue the victims.

One relative, Martin Deslauriers, said that his grandmother telephoned the family to get them to come and rescue her. Although a grandson immediately went to the nursing home with a ladder and the elderly lady was waiting on a balcony of her apartment there, she ultimately burned to death.

Other witnesses said that they could hear the cries of the victims inside the building but were unable to help them.

Media outlets said that the nursing home was expanded in 2002 but the older part of the building, which was completely destroyed in the fire, did not have a fire sprinkler system. EFE