Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 1999-01-01
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Northern Quebec, Kangiqsualujjuaq village
State: QB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 9
Summary: School gymnasium with 500 people inside, 9 killed, 25 injured

Death Toll At Nine In Canadian Avalanche Tragedy

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The death toll from a New Year's avalanche that buried a crowded school gymnasium in a remote northern village of Quebec province rose to nine Friday as rescue workers found the body of a final missing child.

Nine people were killed and 25 injured after an avalanche slammed into a building packed with up to 500 New Year's revelers just after midnight in the Inuit native community of Kangiqsualujjuaq, police said.

Dejected rescue workers discovered the lifeless body of a young boy Friday evening shortly after they had pulled the bodies of his mother and young sister from the snow-filled, single-floor building.

"The search is now completed and we are protecting the scene. Tomorrow, we are going to start the investigation and try to find out what happened,'' said Luc Harvey, chief of Kativik regional police in Kuujjuaq, about 186 miles west of

Kangiqsualujjuaq.

The avalanche roared down a 656-foot hillside without warning, crushing one of the gymnasium's walls and covering the building with up to 10 feet of snow, authorities said.

Party-goers scrambled to safety and then dug through the snow in sub-zero temperatures throughout the night in a desperate search for survivors.

Rescue workers arrived at about midday Friday from other communities to help hundreds of local volunteers, and relatives swamped telephone lines to try to learn the fate of loved ones.

Initial efforts to locate survivors were hampered by a fierce winter storm and fears the teetering gymnasium roof would collapse.

Police said about 12 of the 25 people hurt had serious injuries, mostly broken limbs and respiratory problems, and had been evacuated to a hospital in Montreal. The remaining injured were treated at a hospital in Kuujjuaq.

When the avalanche first hit, most of the people made it out of the battered building on their own, but others had to be assisted.

The building is close to a steep hill. The snow hit the wall of the gymnasium and went inside and then everybody started to dig," Harvey said.

As exhaustion set in among the shocked residents of the devastated community of 650, frantic friends and relatives throughout Quebec jammed phone lines.

Quebec provincial police officers, a medical team and search dogs were sent to the community aboard two planes, one from St. Hubert near Montreal and the other from Kuujjuaq.

The aircraft arrived at about midday Friday, said Quebec provincial police spokesman Ronald McInnis, speaking from the northwestern Quebec town of Rouyn-Noranda.

Kangiqsualujjuaq has only one doctor and two police officers. The community is located in the Ungava Bay region about 930 miles north of Montreal.

The region, home to Mont d'Iberville, one of the highest peaks in Quebec or nearby Labrador at 1,652 feet, has experienced avalanches in the past. Authorities did not rule out the possibility that another wall of snow could hit the town in the next few days.