01/28/2014 01:43 EST | Updated 03/30/2014 05:59 EDT

L'Isle-Verte death toll rises to 16, with 16 still missing

The death toll in the massive blaze at a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., has risen to 16 people, with another 16 still missing, investigators confirmed Tuesday.

They continued to sift through the charred ruins of Résidence du Havre, seeking clues to what caused the Jan. 23 fire, which authorities now fear killed 32 people.

For the first time since fire destroyed much of the wooden, three-storey building in the town of L'Isle-Verte, 80 kilometres southwest of Rimouski on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, media were allowed to take pictures of the investigators at work from a distance.

Police, firefighters and officials from the coroner's office, their breaths billowing out in temperatures of –20 C, used rakes, spades and brooms as they looked for evidence.

Some actually sat on the ground in the black debris, raising gentle clouds of ash as they used their hands to examine the remains. Police say around 40 per cent of the area has now been cleared of major debris.

A commemorative Roman Catholic mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of L'Isle-Verte in the town. Media coverage will be limited out of respect for the families involved, organizers said. Radio-Canada will transmit video and audio of the mass, sharing with other media.