14 May 2010

Family of four die as giant sink hole swallows their house as they watched ice hockey on TV

The bodies of four members of a family who went missing after their house was swallowed by a gaping sink hole north-east of Montreal have been found, authorities said today.

The Prefontaine family was in their basement cheering on ice hockey team the Montreal Canadiens in their Stanley Cup play-off game against the Pittsburgh Penguins when the massive landslide struck on Monday night in the village of Saint-Jude.

Michael Dore, Quebec's emergency management co-ordinator, said: 'After digging and going through the rubble we found the four victims.

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A landslide in Saint-Jude

Sink hole: The bodies of four members of a family who went missing after their house was swallowed on Monday night have been found. The disaster took place in the village of Saint-Jude, north of Montreal

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A landslide in Saint-Jude

Devastation: The Prefontaine family were watching an ice hockey game when the landslide hit

'They were found very close to one another, some of them lying on the couch in the family room in the basement.'

The first body found belonged to father Richard Prefontaine. The others were his wife Lynne Charbonneau and daughters Anais, nine, and Amelie, believed to be 11.

The landslide tore a hole more than four times the size of a football field into Saint-Jude, a verdant village near Montreal.

Sink holes can occur when water undermines an area of land or when rock below the land surface shifts.

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A landslide in Saint-Jude

Giant: The landslide tore a hole more than four times the size of a football field

This particular sink hole ate up three cars, one stretch of a concrete road and most of the house that once sat by a cliff over a tributary of the Yamaska River. The landslide pulled down that cliff.

Rescue workers struggled for almost a full day - at times digging with their hands - to enter a home that was mostly buried in mud with only its green roof left peeking out.

Fire department spokesman Francois Gregoire said: 'It's a pretty gigantic crater. It's hard imagining something like this. It's pretty impressive.'

The family's lush green yard was transformed into an undulating mess of tangled trees, grass and clay blocks.

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A landslide in Saint-Jude

Search: Rescue workers struggled for most of yesterday - at times digging with their hands - to enter the home that was mostly buried in mud

Mayor Yves de Bellefeuille said the incident had the small village in shock, especially since the home is not in an area considered to be especially at risk.

The St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys are laden with clay deposited in low coastal areas during the last Ice Age.

The clay is very sensitive and, if disturbed, it can lose its physical strength and liquefy, causing its slope to collapse and the land to slide.

Natural Resources Canada said clay earth-flows have caused 100 deaths in modern times, including the destruction of two Quebec towns - Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette in 1908 and St-Jean-Vianney in 1971.

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A landslide in Saint-Jude

Aftermath: The incident has left the small village of Saint-Jude in shock, especially since the home is not in an area considered to be especially at risk

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