Search and rescue teams are combing through debris 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.
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.”
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.
A Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team from Toronto has been sent to Elliot Lake to help and confirmed last 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 are currently at the site, which could take up to 10 to 12 hours to be stabilized by a special crew, authorities said Sunday.
Thermal sensors were used by fire officials to probe the scene for survivors yesterday.
“The camera operations took place until 6 o’clock. At that point we exhausted all of our efforts to be able to discover if we had any victims that we could extract,” Officer said.
“Today the heavy urban rescue team has a plan drawn up...shoring will take place of the structure, they’re somewhat limited on what they can access but they will begin on the north side.”
A local state of emergency was declared soon after the cave-in which took place just before 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
The collapse exposed a tangle of twisted metal and concrete supports and triggered a gas leak which prompted emergency officials to cut power to the centre.
Cora Richer, who was working at the Dollarama located in front of the site of the collapse, said the roof was caved in, with wires everywhere.
“I heard this big noise. The ground started shaking, so I ran out, my co-workers are freaking out,” she said.
Ms. Richer said one of her co-workers rushed to help a man who had been hit by falling debris before the group hurried out of the mall through a back entrance.
“We were freaking out,” the 20-year-old said. “The rest of it could have collapsed so we went out the back.”
Two kiosks selling lottery tickets and cigarettes were located in the area where the roof gave way and were open before the collapse, Ms. Richer said, adding that the entire incident has rocked the community.
“I was shaking, I was pretty shocked,” she said. “A lot of my co-workers melted down and started crying.”
Another mall employee said he saw a few cars fall through the roof when it came down near the centre’s escalators.
“You can see the roof with the cars hanging inside,” said Joe Drazil, who works at the mall’s Zellers.
“Everybody was cleared from the whole mall. After that, there were numerous police and emergency vehicles coming from all over.”
The cause of the roof collapse is still unclear. Authorities said they are currently focused on rescue efforts and stabilizing the scene.
Liz Fletcher, who works at a pet store down the street, said that the mall roof has been the subject of town gossip for years. "It's common knowledge that the roof was in bad shape. It was leaking every time it rained or snowed," said Fletcher.
The mall is considered by many local residents to be an important community hub. It houses one of the town's few grocery stores, restaurants, a number of retail outlets and the constituency office for NDP MPP Michael Mantha.
With a report from Chris Berube
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