Search for survivors to resume in collapsed Ontario mall after premier’s plea
UPDATED 10:28 a.m. Tuesday
ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. — Emergency crews are at work today to consider some “extreme measures” in their efforts to reach at least two people trapped in a partially collapsed mall in this northern Ontario city.
The move is a stunning reversal from their decision to abandon the site after it was deemed too dangerous for crews to go in — and came at the urging of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The decision was a bittersweet victory for a grieving community whose hopes of finding anyone still alive in the rubble gave way to shock and rage when emergency crews called off the search on Monday.
“Rescue missions never end, save our families, save our friends,” chanted a crowd of people gathered outside the crippled mall building Monday night. They hoped their deafening screams and whistles would let possible survivors know that help was on the way.
Residents had protested in front of city hall after the decision to abandon the search was announced, saying it was too soon to call off the effort, and there was talk of people going in themselves.
McGuinty told The Canadian Press that he asked Emergency Management Ontario and the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team to consider any other options that would not endanger rescue crews, including using heavy equipment to dismantle the building from the outside.
“If my son was in there or my wife or a brother or sister or a close friend, I would want no stone left unturned,” the premier said.
“It may be that there’s only a slim chance of success, but I think we owe it to the families especially that we give it a shot and do the best that we can.
“They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat and if we can’t go in from the inside, then let’s see if we can figure a way to go in from the outside.”
A senior Ontario government source said McGuinty spoke with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Monday night about the situation in Elliot Lake, and asked for federal assistance.
“The prime minister seemed willing and now our officials are working together,” the source said.
A spokesman for Harper said the prime minister has offered the services of the Canadian Forces and other federal resources to assist with the rescue efforts.
Elliot Lake officials told a news conference that while the rescue effort was back on, a plan is still in the works.
“We’re moving this forward as best we can and as fast as we can,” said fire Chief Paul Officer.
Officials said they detected “signs of life” earlier on Monday inside the mall where a parking lot on the roof crashed two floors down on Saturday afternoon. But they did not know the status of that person when the search was called off.
One person was killed and at least 22 were injured in the collapse.
The announcement that the search was resuming came after word the mall owners were seeking an injunction against the decision to abandon the rescue efforts.
“We heard they are stopping the search,” Rhonda Bear of Eastwood Mall Inc. said in an email to The Canadian Press.
“The owners are pleading that they continue the search or allow trained personnel that are still willing to continue.”
Among those hit hardest by the news was Rajean Aylwin, who said he believes his daughter Lucie Aylwin is inside.
“They just gave up,” said Aylwin. “It doesn’t make sense. You can’t give up. You’ve got to keep going until you find them.”
Aylwin said he worked in a mine for 35 years and that culture among miners was to never leave someone to perish underground.
Other residents also drew upon Elliot Lake’s history as a mining hub.
“No way would a miner leave a friend or anybody underground, especially if they thought they were alive,” said Judy Pine.
“I can’t believe they’re giving up and letting that poor girl die by herself, in the dark, alone.”
Bill Needles of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team said crews were facing the imminent threat of a secondary collapse within the fragile structure. He said rescuers were facing increasingly precarious conditions as they combed the debris for survivors.
Authorities are still trying to determine how many people are missing.