McGuinty calls for mall rescue mission to resume

Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) members unload their gear behind the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake...

Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) members unload their gear behind the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake on June 24, 2012. On June 23 the mall suffered a partial roof collapse which led to at least two being trapped beneath the rubble. (QMI Agency/KEVIN MCSHEFFREY)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

ELLIOT LAKE, ONT. - Hours after the rescue operation for any possible survivors of the Algo Centre Mall collapse was called off, Premier Dalton McGuinty has called on officials to "leave no stone unturned" in getting it back on.

"I have spoken to Emergency Management Ontario and the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team and have instructed them to determine if there is any other way possible to reach any victims without endangering our rescuers, including the use of equipment to dismantle the building from the exterior," McGuinty said in a statement Monday night.

"I believe we owe it to the families waiting for word of their loved ones to leave no stone unturned. We owe that to the people of Elliot Lake too. Ontarians expect nothing less."

The emotionally charged decision to halt the rescue mission didn't sit well with the people of Elliot Lake.

About 50 community members immediately protested outside city hall Monday night and the mall's owner began exploring legal avenues to have the rescue resume.

The group called for the search to resume and chanted, “Rescue missions never end. Save our family save our friends.”

At the urging of McGuinty, who said "Ontarians have been hoping and praying that rescuers could reach any survivors in the rubble of the collapsed Algo Mall," officials told a news conference that they would restart the rescue operation with the use of "mechanical" solutions that would not put personnel in danger.

The grim news earlier to halt rescue operations all but dashed any hope that any survivors will be pulled out alive from under the tonnes of concrete rubble that came crashing down Saturday.

But Algo Centre Mall owner Bob Nazarian is exploring legal avenues to resume the rescue efforts.

Mall manager Rhonda Bear said Monday her employer issued a statement following word that the rescue effort has turned into a recovery assignment.

“We just heard they stopped the search,” Bear said, reading from the statement. "In response the owners have begun the legal process to get the recovery effort stopped and the rescue and search efforts started again."

Bear said if the authorities do not feel it is safe for their personnel, others with similar training should take over the rescue effort.

“Right now the owners are pretty much in shock," she said. "Speaking to Bob - he could barely speak. He’s just in shock with everything...

"We just want to see those people are out of there (safely).”

Officials had earlier confirmed that at least one person is dead, another was believed to be trapped alive and as many as 30 people are unaccounted for.

Rescue efforts had resumed early Monday at the mall, where officials believed there were at least two victims buried in the debris - the deceased and one survivor.

Emergency workers sifting through the concrete rubble said late Sunday they had heard “taps” from within the debris and they detected signs of life again around 4 a.m. Monday.


A helmeted worker can be seen on the second floor of the damaged Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on June 23 2012 following a partial collapse of the roof. PAUL KAZULAK, QMI Agency

But parts of the scene are structurally unstable and a substantial risk to rescue workers, which slowed down the rescue and recovery efforts as crews carefully removed debris and shored up sections of the mall.

Bill Needles, with the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team, said at a media update Monday afternoon that there is too much risk to his crew so the operation had been handed over to the provincial ministry of labour.

He said engineers are surprised there already hasn't been another collapse.

"Our team is not happy, we're not happy and I’m not happy that we have to stop the search," Needles said.

The ministry will work with mall owner's to devise a demolition plan.

Needles had earlier announced the operation suffered a "setback."

“The structure, after some of the weight has been removed ... is still shifting," he said. "The escalator inside is still shifting. We had to remove crews to reassess the entry point.”

That situation worsened as the day went on and the rescue efforts were abandoned.

He said the situation has been frustrating for the rescue crews, who were determined to locate and pull out the lone possible survivor by Monday night or early Tuesday.

“It’s been known in other parts of the world (that people) survived for 17 days (in similar circumstances,)” he said, adding that crews are unable to get food or water to the victim.

The official missing-persons list has been fluctuating. At one point, it dropped to as low as three names, but Monday afternoon it was up to 30.

As the city is home to a huge retirement community, and it’s the beginning of summer, police say tracking down those unaccounted for is difficult.

“It keeps going up and down,” Jollymore said. “Most of the people on this list have nothing to do with (the collapse).”

Anyone who wishes to report a missing person or believes someone might be missing can call 1-888-310-1122.

A 40-by-80-foot section of the mall’s roof collapsed around 2:20 p.m. Saturday, onto the second floor and part of that crashed down onto the first floor.

Twenty-two people were treated in hospital for minor injuries.

Several residents told QMI Agency over the weekend they were not entirely surprised to learn of the tragedy, as the mall’s leaky roof has been an ongoing issue for years, and the building has undertaken several repairs recently.

Mayor Rick Hamilton on Monday avoided questions about the structure’s condition, but says he’s been hearing the same questions about leaks in the area that collapsed.

“I think everyone has been approached with leaking water (complaints),” Hamilton said. ”Our focus is on the rescue.”

About 100 people attended a vigil Sunday afternoon for victims.

Elliot Lake is about 150 km west of Sudbury in northern Ontario.

- With files from Rita Poliakov, Shannon Quesnel, Kevin McSheffrey


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