Four children and one man were confirmed dead by Quebec provincial police on Saturday after a fishing excursion gone wrong on the St. Lawrence River shoreline in Portneuf-sur-Mer, on the province's North Shore.
The children, all above the age of 10, were among a group of 11 people fishing on the river bank without a boat when a rising tide swept them away.
Six were rescued, but the five victims were reported missing around 2 a.m. ET
The children were not breathing when they were recovered on the shore, according to police spokesperson Sgt. Catherine Bernard. They were transferred to the local health centre where a physician confirmed their deaths.
Police said divers found the body of the missing man, who was in his 30s, in the river and he was pronounced dead at a hospital. Quebec provincial police and Canadian Forces members had taken part in the search for the missing adult throughout the afternoon.
"When it's low tide, you can fish a little further away from the shore. However, at some point the tide came back in and they were caught off guard when the tide started to rise," Bernard said in a phone interview.
Mayor Jean-Maurice Tremblay said Saturday he did not know more about the victims or if they were from Portneuf-sur-Mer, a community of about 600 people.
"Everyone is affected by what happened, because this kind of event, it's the first time it's happened," Tremblay said. "When it involves five people, and four children drowning during a recreational activity, it's certain people are quite sad about it."
Police said those in the group were fishing for capelin. The silvery smelt fish is a forage species consumed by many marine animals, and Tremblay said fishing for them is a popular activity in his part of Quebec's North Shore. It is done on the banks of the river using scoops rather than fishing lines.
Capelin most often roll at night, so people light a fire on the shore and wait, Tremblay added..
Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel called the situation an "unnamable catastrophe" and a tragedy in an interview with Radio-Canada about wildfires Saturday morning.
In a written statement, Bloc Québécois MP for Manicouagan Marilène Gill said her thoughts are with the people in the region.
"As a mother, my heart is with you and my entire team is here for you," read the statement.