At least nine people missing, one believed dead in Elliot Lake
One person may be dead, trapped under debris, and at least nine people are missing after a portion of a mall roof collapsed this weekend in a northern Ontario city, shaking a community that considered the shopping centre as its hub.
Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Percy Jollymore insisted Sunday that number of people unaccounted for was fluctuating as some of those reported as 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.”
Despite the possible casualty, officials are working through the night, hoping to rescue people trapped at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, a city 160 kilometres west of Sudbury. But they won’t be able to get to anyone trapped under the rubble until Monday because it will take up to 12 hours to stabilize the scene, officials said.
The mayor of Elliot Lake declared a state of emergency Saturday after the roof, which serves as a parking lot, crashed through two floors of the shopping centre, exposing twisted metal and concrete supports and triggering a gas leak. The Ontario Provincial Police emergency team were deployed to the area, as were about 40 specialists who make up Toronto’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team.
Police say 22 people were injured in the collapse, but none of them seriously. Another nine people remain unaccounted for, but that number is fluctuating as community members account for those missing, police say.
For residents of Elliot Lake, it was a weekend of hope and frustration. The shopping centre houses the city library, various government offices and a grocery store. It is also a structure, some say, that has shown signs of disrepair over the years.
Residents, taking stock of the weekend incident, wondered if it could have been avoided. The local newspaper, The Standard, has reported on leaks and other deficiencies at the mall, saying that owners spent $1.1-million recently to plug roof leaks. But residents contacted by The Globe and Mail spoke about persistent leaks despite the infusion of cash.
“When we walked through the Algo Centre mall last summer, the library had buckets out to catch the ceiling leaks,” one person wrote on Twitter.
The owner of the mall, which was built in the early 1980s, was tight-lipped when reached Sunday. Bob Nazarian of Eastwood Mall Inc. was in Elliot Lake, and planned on visiting the site.
“I’d rather not [comment], because we have talked to our lawyers and we’re going to be in the City Hall to represent ourselves,” he said. “But nevertheless, we are very much concerned [about] this accident.”
Two kiosks were located in the area where the roof caved in and were open before the collapse, eyewitnesses said.
Heather Richer was serving a customer at her restaurant, Mum’s Place, when the ceiling nearby collapsed. “We heard a great big bang,” she said. “You look up and the mall’s gone. It caved in … water flowing everywhere, everything was down around us.”
She said there were maintenance issues and leaky ceilings, including in her restaurant.
“There [were] holes everywhere, especially over where the roof had fallen in,” she said.
Yves Bérubé, co-owner of a jewellery store, was on a cigarette break outside the mall when the roof gave way.
“The doors blew open and a big cloud of dust [came] flying out,” he said. “It was like something you see in a horror movie.”
Mr. Bérubé ran back inside to assist in getting people out, including an elderly woman and a man who had been cut.
“Once we had everybody, we got out of there,” he said. As for his store: “The front end of my store is gone, from what I’ve seen,” he said.
Politicians, including Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, thanked emergency workers and praised the residents of Elliot Lake for remaining strong and hopeful.
Sunday church services in Elliot Lake focused on the tragedy. Reverend Robert Gardner said Holy Trinity United Church had opened its doors to anyone affected by the accident, including the scores of workers involved in the search and rescue effort.
“It’s a town that bounces back from all kinds of things,” Mr. Gardner said. “It’s not a town that gives up.”