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At least nine people unaccounted for after mall collapse

June 25, 2012, Elliot Lake, Ont. - Several people remain unaccounted for after the partial collapse of a roof at a mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake that left at least two people trapped under massive chunks of concrete.

June 25, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Police have a list of people who remain unaccounted for in the wake
of Saturday’s tragic events, and by late Sunday night it still contained
nine names.

But Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore insisted that
number was fluctuating as some of those reported missing had been
located and others — who hadn’t been heard from — were added to the
list.

“The problem with this is there’s no precise science, we don’t know
who was in the mall when it collapsed,” said Jollymore. “We won’t stop
until the list has been satisfied.”

Meanwhile, a rescue official said at least two people were trapped in
the rubble as crews worked around the clock to stabilize the scene.

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Officials suspect one of those imprisoned “could be a casualty,” but
they said it would take until early Monday morning before the structure
was deemed safe enough for search and rescue teams to go in.

Provincial police said images of the partially collapsed roof at the
Algo Centre Mall, which served as a parking lot, showed a hand and a
foot in the dusty debris.

“We have obtained some visual information relating to a visual of a
hand and a foot which is our grounds for the suspected casualty in this
case, we cannot confirm the identity,” said Jollymore.

“The location is such that we cannot approach it at this time.”

Officials also said they heard some taps coming from behind fallen slabs of concrete and metal.

“Some of our search members this morning heard a couple of taps,”
said Bill Needles, a spokesman from the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue
team which travelled from Toronto.

“They called for a quick silence on the site and there was a couple
more taps. That was an indication to us that we were dealing with a
rescue,” he said.

“We then turned our whole efforts towards trying to locate this
individual. There was no verbal, there was no sight, we have no idea if
it’s male, female, what age, it was just a tap.”

Needles said crews drilled through a wall in an attempt to locate the
victim but weren’t able to find anyone. At that point crews decided the
site was too unstable to send in rescue workers.

The operation is still a rescue mission, though, and officials said they were still hoping to find people alive.

“We’re believing that they’re still there and still alive,” Needles said.

The roof of the mall came crashing down through two floors just
before 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The collapse left a gaping hole about 12
metres by 24 metres, downed hydro lines and it triggered a gas leak.

Two kiosks selling lottery tickets, cigarettes and magazines were
located in the area where the roof caved in and were open before the
incident, eyewitnesses said.

By Saturday evening, hope mingled with frustration in the close-knit community as residents waited anxiously for news.

“There’s a fair amount missing,” said Heather Richer, who owns a
restaurant in the mall and was at work when the collapse occurred.

“I’m hoping everyone’s found, but I’m giving up hope on whether they’re going to find them alive.”

Richer, who was particularly concerned about an acquaintance who was
unaccounted for, described Saturday’s thunderous collapse as a
nightmare.

“It was almost like a little mini earthquake, like a big bang, and
then gone,” she said. “There was nothing there. Everything started to
cave in, water was pouring out of the pipes.”

The two-storey centre, which was built in the early ’80s, underwent a
structural study in May and received a passing grade, said a source
with Eastwood Mall Inc., which owns the mall.

Work was being done on the roof before the collapse to prevent leaks,
but no “substantial renovations” were underway, the source said.

Work to re-seal the surface of the roof was, however, planned for the near future.

As emergency crews continued to scrutinize the scene on Sunday, some
irate residents in the city, which in recent years has become a popular
retirement destination, said the mall, while a bustling community hub,
was an older building much in need of repairs.

“The mall’s always had leaks (and) roof damage,” said Jean-Marc Hayward, who was in the mall at the time of the collapse.

“There’s a spot near the food court where there (was) a hole in the ceiling and you could see the beams and they’re all rusted.”

Hayward, who heard and felt a loud rumble moments before the roof
crumbled, said the ceiling of the mall always dripped when it rained.

“I used to say, ‘One of these days, a car’s going to come through
there’. . . it finally gave way, I guess,” he said. “I’m still shaken up
about it.”

The owners of the mall travelled to Elliot Lake soon after the incident to offer support to the community.

“To those who have been injured, to those families of missing
individuals, we offer our deepest sympathies,” said Levon Nazarian,
whose father, Richard Nazarian, owns the mall.

“We are, and will be co-operating with the authorities to provide them with any helpful resources that are at our disposal.”

Police continued to urge anyone worried about missing loved ones to
check in at an information centre where police are tracking those who
are unaccounted for. Vicars and crisis councillors were on hand.

Concern for the community poured in Sunday, with political leaders pledging their support.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was in touch with Elliot Lake’s mayor and thanked emergency crews in the city for their efforts.

“As we anxiously wait to learn more about anyone thought to be
missing in Elliot Lake, our thoughts and prayers are with their
families, and also with those who have been injured and indeed with the
entire community,” McGuinty said in a statement.

“During a crisis like this, I am reminded of the strength and
resilience of Northern Ontarians, and how by pulling together with our
friends, families and neighbours, we can get through these difficult
times.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was inspired to see the community of roughly 11,000 pull together during the crisis.

“There will be time soon to examine what happened and why, but right
now our priority has to be protecting people’s lives and health and
ensuring the immediate disaster relief this community needs,” she said
in a statement.

The mall houses a grocery store, restaurants, a number of retail
outlets and the constituency office for NDP legislature member Michael
Mantha. A hotel is also attached to the centre, which is the largest
mall in Elliot Lake.

The city — once an Ontario mining hub — is located about 160 kilometres west of Sudbury.