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Search resumes in Elliot Lake after McGuinty intervenes

June 26, 2012, Elliot Lake, Ont. - Hundreds of residents gathered outside a mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., where the roof caved in let out deafening screams and whistles at news Monday night that rescue efforts were being resumed after an appeal from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

June 26, 2012 
By The Canadian Press

Members of the crowd said they wanted to let any possible survivors trapped inside know that help would be on the way, although some said they're cautious after an emotional rollercoaster ride that saw the rescue efforts halted because it was deemed too dangerous, and then restarted again within hours.

Residents had protested in front of city hall after the decision to abandon the search was announced, saying it was too soon to call off the effort, and there was talk of people going in themselves.

"Rescue missions never end, save our families, save our friends,'' chanted the protesters, adding efforts to recover survivors had gone on for days in the wake of more high profile tragedies such as 9-11 or global earthquakes.

McGuinty told The Canadian Press that he asked Emergency Management Ontario and the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team to consider any other options that would not endanger rescue crews, including using heavy equipment to dismantle the building from the outside.

"If my son was in there or my wife or a brother or sister or a close friend, I would want no stone left unturned,'' the premier said.

"It may be that there's only a slim chance of success, but I think we owe it to the families especially that we give it a shot and do the best that we can.

"They say there's more than one way to skin a cat and if we can't go in from the inside, then let's see if we can figure a way to go in from the outside.''

A senior Ontario government source said McGuinty spoke with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday night about the situation in Elliot Lake.

The premier asked for the call early after the rescue effort was called off, the source said. McGuinty provided an update to the prime minister and asked for federal assistance.

"The prime minister seemed willing and now our officials are working together,'' said the Ontario government source.

Elliot Lake officials told a news conference that while the rescue effort was back on, a plan is still in the works.

"We're moving this forward as best we can and as fast as we can,'' said Fire Chief Paul Officer.

Officials said they detected "signs of life'' earlier in the day inside the mall where a parking lot on the roof crashed two floors down into the mall below on Saturday afternoon. But they did not know the status of that person when the search was called off.

One person has been confirmed to have died.

The announcement that the search was resuming came after word the mall owners were seeking an injunction against the decision to abandon the rescue efforts.

"We heard they are stopping the search,'' Rhonda Bear of Eastwood Mall Inc. said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"The owners are pleading that they continue the search or allow trained personel that are still willing to continue.''

Among those hit hardest by the news was Rajean Aylwin, who said he believes his daughter Lucie Aylwin is inside.

"They just gave up,'' said Aylwin. "It doesn't make sense. You can't give up. You've got to keep going until you find them.''

Aylwin said he worked in a mine for 35 years and that culture among miners was to never leave someone to perish underground.

Other residents also drew upon Elliot Lake's history as a mining town.

"No way would a miner leave a friend or anybody underground, especially if they thought they were alive,'' said Judy Pine.

"I can't believe they're giving up and letting that poor girl die by herself, in the dark, alone.''

Bill Needles of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team said crews were facing the imminent threat of a secondary collapse within the fragile structure.

The section of Algo Centre Mall levelled when part of the roof came crashing down on Saturday afternoon became increasingly unstable as crews sifted through the rubble, he said.

Needles said rescuers were facing increasingly precarious conditions as they combed the debris for survivors.

An unstable escalator that forced crews to remove their cranes from the site earlier in the day continued to separate from its supporting beams as the day progressed, he said.

"Realistically the engineer's telling me he doesn't understand why it hasn't collapsed already,'' Needles said. "What that does is it makes the determination that the building is … totally unsafe.''

Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore said officers are still trying to determine how many others are missing.

A list of names submitted by concerned citizens has been fluctuating dramatically since the accident, he said, adding at least two have remained constant.

"We do have two names of people who are known to be in the mall,'' Jollymore said. "Their names have never disappeared on the list.''

Concerned community members gathered at the mall to learn the fate of their loved ones and offer support to those awaiting word.

"We're all trying to remain positive that everyone's going to come out of there and be fine,'' said Catherine Timleck-Shaw.

"We've all banded together. We talk, we hug. We're just here together.''

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