Residents of a P.E.I. community care home struck by fire Monday night are still coping with the aftereffects of the disruption, but the president of the home's co-op thinks they might be able to start settling into a temporary home next week.
Marcel Richard, president of Le Chez-Nous co-op, said he has been told the Mill River Resort is putting a rush on renovations to a wing that is vacant right now, with a view to possibly having it ready early next week.
"They're just trying their best to make it less hard for us," Richard said of the resort. "They even went as far as saying they could talk to some of their bookings, clients, maybe they could change [reservations]. We hope they won't have to do that because they are running a business."
Fire broke out at Le Chez-Nous in Wellington, at the centre of the Acadian region of the province, about 9:40 p.m. Monday, with heavy smoke reported throughout the building.
All 47 residents and the staff were able to escape without serious injury, but the fire has left the residents homeless.
The residents first sheltered at the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, and then were sent to Mill River, about a half-hour drive to the north. There was ample room for them at the resort mid-week, but the weekend is complicated by a number of guest bookings.
Richard said Le Chez-Nous staff are canvassing families to see if some can accommodate their relatives for a few nights. If they can get through the weekend that might be enough, he said.
"The management at the resort is totally awesome," said Richard, noting that work is underway for a separate dining room for Chez-Nous guests as well.
"Because of COVID we're trying to keep it as separate as we can."
Family of residents delivering necessities
Family members of Chez-Nous residents were at the hotel on Tuesday, dropping off necessities to the residents. Anne Compton was there to see her parents, Eva and Leo Richard, and came bearing a large bag.
"Batteries for [my mother's] hearing aids cause she can't hear right now, and a few munchies, and clothing, and necessities, 'cause they left with only what was on their back," said Compton.
"It's great that I can go in and get to see them, reassure myself and my family that they're fine."
Compton's sister, Louise Arsenault, lives in Wellington, right next to Le Chez-Nous. On Monday night, she saw an ambulance pull up at the home, then three fire trucks and the RCMP.
"Lots of things went through my mind," said Arsenault.
Soon after, Arsenault's husband went over to the facility find out what was going on, and they learned the home was being evacuated.
"It was quite a relief to know that they were all basically in the bus and being transported off-site at that time," she said.
She was able to speak to her parents briefly before they left.
"I talked to them through the school bus window, just said, 'Are you guys OK?' And they both said, 'Yes, we're OK.'"
'Used to seeing the same faces every day'
Arsenault is happy her parents are together with the other residents at the Mill River Resort and hopes they can stay there until they can return to Le Chez-Nous.
"They're used to seeing the same faces every day and to talking to the other residents and playing cards, different things just to kind of keep it more like a regular setting," she said.
"The community around here and in P.E.I. are just so giving and caring that I think that everything is going to work out. It's just a matter of the not knowing right now of what's going to happen."
For Claudette McNeill, whose mother Denise Arsenault lives at Le Chez-Nous, she'd rather take her home to her own house while they wait for the facility to reopen.
"That would be the best thing for her. Because then she'd be closer to my brothers and sisters and ... this is quite far for us."
Her mother, who's 99, can't wait to get back to Le Chez-Nous, said McNeill.
"She knits and she says all her wool is there," she said.
Staying together thought to be important
The mayor of Wellington told CBC News he hopes the residents can continue to live as a group while the smoke-damaged home is repaired and cleaned.
"It's very important that they be kept together. I wouldn't want to see them spread out all over the Island," said Alcide Bernard, who has "a couple of cousins" living at Le Chez-Nous.
"Everyone's from the community, pretty well, a few from outside. They live together as a family."
Bernard said he has been told the fire appears to have started in the basement around the furnace. The floor suffered in the fire, and there is smoke damage throughout the building.
A new wing, not yet opened, was separated by a firewall and not damaged, he said.
He is hoping the building can be quickly repaired so the residents can move back in. For many of them, Wellington is where they have lived their whole lives.
"Le Chez-Nous has played that important role of keeping people in this community, serving them in their language and culture," Bernard said.
"It is a place that everybody that is there calls home."
Shock and stress a factor
Richard is also thinking about how to keep the residents comfortable and calm. Shock and stress started to settle in on many of the residents later in the day Tuesday, he said.
With more sleep it would be a lot better, but it can't be helped, the way it all happened. — Marcel Richard
"They were extremely tired, because I don't think too many of them had any sleep that night, Monday night," Richard said.
It was almost 4 a.m. when they got into the Mill River Resort the morning after the fire.
"With more sleep it would be a lot better, but it can't be helped, the way it all happened."
The home is bringing in some counselling professionals to help residents overcome any lingering fears they have from the incident.
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