Searchers seek mall collapse survivors
Jun 24, 2012 / 1:00 pm
Search and rescue teams are combing through debris looking for a number of people who appear to be missing after a roof collapsed at a mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake, injuring almost two dozen people.
Ontario Provincial Police aren't releasing a number, but said they have a list of potential missing people that's two pages long. They said names continue to be crossed off that list as members of the community account for their loved ones.
A portion of the Algo Centre Mall's roof, which serves as a parking lot, came crashing through two floors on Saturday afternoon. The collapse left behind a gaping hole which was 12 meters by 24 metres, downed hydro lines and 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 collapse, eyewitnesses said.
Jean-Marc Hayward said he heard and felt a loud rumble moments before the roof crumbled, filling the air with dust and debris.
"I'm still shaken up about it, it's like being in a really bad earthquake," he told The Canadian Press on Sunday.
"I didn't sleep very good last night," he said, adding worries about those believed to be missing kept him awake.
Algoma OPP Inspector Percy Jollymore called the incident a "tragedy."
He urged 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 are on hand.
"We encourage people to contact that agency ... so we can locate the family members that they're trying to get a hold of, and we can shorten that list," Jollymore said.
Police also said 22 people were injured in the collapse, but none of them were seriously hurt.
"We are still progressing with the rescue," said fire chief Paul Officer. "We're dealing with large slabs of concrete."
A Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team from Toronto was sent to Elliot Lake to help and confirmed Saturday night that at least one person was trapped in the collapse. It wasn't immediately known if the person was pulled out.
A canine team, fire officials and paramedics were at the site, which could take up to 10 to 12 hours to be stabilized by a special crew, authorities said Sunday.
The danger of shifting rubble caused fire crews to draw back from the site around 4 p.m. on Saturday, said Officer, adding that thermal sensors were then used to probe the scene for survivors.
Some said they were concerned about the roof condition long before Saturday's collapse.
"The mall's always had leaks (and) roof damage," Hayward said, noting the ceiling dripped every time it rained.
"I used to say, 'One of these days, a car's going to come through there'... it finally gave way, I guess."
A spokeswoman for the mall, which is run by Eastwood Mall Incorporated, said the company was referring all questions on the collapse and the condition of the centre to its lawyer, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
_ By Diana Mehta and Paola Loriggio in Toronto. (CKNR, The Canadian Press)
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