SAINT-APOLLINAIRE, Que. - The bodies of two girls who were the subject of an Amber Alert were found in a suburb of Quebec City on Saturday, in what Premier Francois Legault is describing as a “national tragedy.”

Quebec provincial police said they found the bodies of Norah and Romy Carpentier, aged 11 and 6, in a wooded area of St-Apollinaire, Que., drawing to a close a days-long search that gripped the province.

“Like all Quebecers, I am devastated, without words. Losing two children, what we hold most dear in life, is incomprehensible,” Legault said on Twitter. “It is a national tragedy.”

He said that all of Quebec is grieving with Norah and Romy's loved ones.

Romy Carpentier, Norah Carpentier, Martin

A spokeswoman for the provincial police confirmed the news of the girls' deaths on Saturday afternoon, saying the investigation into the cause of death is ongoing.

But Ann Mathieu said the current priority is to locate the girls' father, Martin Carpentier.

“We think that he is still in the area, so the police operation is still on to find him as soon as possible,” she said.

The girls had been missing since late Wednesday. Their disappearance has gripped people across the province who had hoped they would be found safe.

Police had said the girls and their father were believed to have been in a car crash on Highway 20 in St-Apollinaire on Wednesday evening.

Investigators said the car was heading east on the highway when it skidded into the median, flipped over and landed on the shoulder on the opposite side of the highway.

An Amber Alert was issued for the girls Thursday afternoon, and an extensive police search began in the rural area south of Quebec City.

That search had resumed Saturday morning, with police deploying a helicopter, as well as canine units, ATVs and on-foot search teams, to try to locate the three people.

Police believe Carpentier could still be in St-Apollinaire or the nearby town of St-Agapit, Que., Mathieu said.

“We ask the residents of St-Apollinaire and also St-Agapit to really be alert,” she said.

Bernard Ouellet, the mayor of St-Apollinaire, said earlier Saturday that the tragedy touched the hearts of people across the province.

“Everyone has tears in their eyes,” Ouellet said in a brief interview. “It's not easy for anyone.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined the chorus of condolences, writing on Twitter that he's “devastated” by the news.

“My heart breaks for the family and friends of Norah and Romy - I'm sending you my deepest condolences,” he wrote. “Know that all Canadians are keeping you in their thoughts tonight.”

Mathieu said police are asking anyone who sees Carpentier or has any information on his whereabouts to immediately contact 911.

Police say the 44-year-old was wearing a grey T-shirt and jeans when he was last seen. He is listed as being five-foot-ten and weighing 130 pounds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2020.