Two days after a section of roof collapsed into the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, residents knew one person was dead. They feared 30 were still missing. Rescue workers were pulled back from the unstable structure.
Townspeople were stunned. Lorrie Goldstein of the “Toronto Sun” asked a question on everyone’s minds in Elliot Lake:
If rescuers were coming to the conclusion they lacked the resources to safety search the mall, why weren’t steps being taken to address that from the moment they first expressed them, rather than, apparently, only after grief-stricken Elliot Lake residents expressed outrage about the initial decision to shut down rescue efforts?
The collapse occurred Saturday, June 23rd. The morning of June 27th “CBC News” reported two bodies were pulled from the twisted wreckage of the mall. In the intervening days, relieved friends and relatives were able to account for most of those they feared might have been in the mall. Many kept vigil, refusing to abandon those trapped under the rubble.
The step-by-step unfolding of the Elliot Lake tragedy detailed by CBC is wrenching to read and offers a glimpse into the agony of the townspeople watching it all unfold. Special equipment was brought in, and the rescue efforts continued. Days passed. Hopes of finding someone alive diminished.
On Sunday there was still hope of pulling someone out alive. Another CBC report said the HUSAR (Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team) from Toronto reported hearing tapping. At 4 a.m. Monday rescue teams “detected more ‘signs of life’ in the mall.
After the second body was pulled from the wreckage Wednesday morning, HUSAR commander Bill Neadles told media, “I believe there is no one else in there,” and said he did not expect rescue workers to find other victims.
Next: Painful Questions Remain
Responding to the anger and frustration of residents, Neadles was quoted in the “National Post” as saying:
We’ve had the best of the best in town here, and I know that’s difficult for people to accept given some of the things that have occurred. But I assure you that there was never any intention for that . . . . team to leave this community.
The reassurance is small comfort to those who watched and waited and hoped. One of the watchers posted several videos, including the one below, on a blog he started to provide a local view of the tragedy.
Right now the focus is on clearing the rubble and making sure no one is still trapped or dead. A relief fund is collecting money for people affected by the tragedy, including 300 who no longer have jobs. Donations can be made via Scotiabank, Royal Bank, Toronto Dominion, CIBC, Bank of Montreal and the Northern Credit Union.
The question that will remain and cast a shadow over this small Ontario community is why their safety did not matter enough to ensure the mall was adequately maintained. The Elliot Lake blogger put it this way:
Several years ago, leaks were forcing merchants to shut their stores as water was damaging their wares. An architect apparently warned that if moisture accumulated in some of the fibreboard pads lining the roof’s concrete slabs, the pads could deteriorate. This goes in line with why the roof may have collapsed.
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Photos from Elliot Lake blogger's video