Grief turns to anger in Elliot Lake mall roof collapse

TORONTO – As residents of Elliot Lake continue to mourn the deaths of two victims from the Algo Shopping Centre mall roof collapse, community leaders are also raising their arms calling for a full public inquiry.

“We owe it to the families of the victims and the community to take every step we can to get answers and to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said MPP for the area Michael Mantha. “An independent public inquiry will ensure that no stone is left unturned.”

The call to action comes a day after the bodies of Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, in her 70s, were recovered beneath the rubble following the initial roof collapse on Saturday.

Aylwin’s fiancé Gary Gendron spoke for the first time since Lucie’s body was removed and believed her place of work at a lottery kiosk was not a safe one.

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“I think myself, that mall should have been closed long time ago,” he said, drawing cheers from a group of local residents. “People made a lot of complaints about the mall but nothing changed.”

A lawyer representing the mall’s owner, Richard Nazarian, said on Thursday the owners are deeply saddened by the events.

During an afternoon press conference, lawyer Antoine-Rene Fabris said the mall was inspected on a regular basis and the company had spent more than $1 million in renovations.

Fabris admitted Nazarian, who was not at the news conference, has received threats and is facing legal action.

“There has been a notice of class-action proceedings that has been delivered,” said Fabris.

On Thursday morning, Premier Dalton McGuinty says the coroner’s office is conducting an investigation of the two deaths with the assistance of provincial police.

The Ministry of Labour, which visited the mall six times in the last three years, will also be conducting its own probe.

McGuinty says the history of the mall will be under “intense review” and the results of that will be made public.

He says the public needs to know whether everything possible was done to save lives or if there was more that could have been done.

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The last of the victims were pulled from the rubble of a shopping mall on Wednesday.

Rescuers removed the bodies of two women after a four-day rescue mission using sophisticated equipment to reach them.

“My thoughts are, right now, based on the intelligence that I have. I believe that there is nobody else in there,” said Bill Neadles, of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team on Wednesday.

He said his information is based on security surveillance he’s watched, and a fluctuating list of people unaccounted for that has always had these two people listed.

“Would I say we’re 100 per cent sure? Never. Ninety-nine per cent sure, I’m confident . . .” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made a visit to Elliot Lake to meet with families and first responders.

“Today as you’ve heard, we’ve recovered the body of Doloris and Lucie,” said McGuinty during a press conference. “We did all we could to bring the bodies to those who belong.”

The Premier also praised the community of Elliot Lake for their unwavering support during the past few days.

“Your community was tested. You not only rose to the occasion, you represented the best of Ontarians,” McGuinty said. “You showed strength an kindness, patience and perseverance, good will and a steely determination.”

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However, anger and confusion remains in the community as many residents are demanding accountability.

“We just want answers,” said Catherine Timleck-Shaw. “We want someone to come out and actually say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That would mean a lot.”

Patrick Schumph, 59, echoed those calls, not just for the delay in the rescue operation but with the owner of the Algo Centre mall as well.

“I hope this all comes to light,” said Schumph. “There’s neglect here. What we discovered from this all is we got very lucky only two persons died; two too many.”

Premier McGuinty says he plans to look into the way the whole operation was conducted.

“In the coming days, we will take the time to review the events as they unfolded to ensure we learn any lessons to be had,” McGuinty said. “All Ontarians are committed to having a world class emergency response program in place at all times.”

What happened

On Saturday afternoon, a portion of the mall’s roof collapsed, raining down in a thunderous crash that has claimed three lives and injured 22 people.

The OPP say 12 people are still missing. The number has fluctuated from the 30 unaccounted for on Monday as concerned Canadians from across the country contact police.

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When search and rescue has determined there are no more people inside, the investigation will be handed over to the Ministry of Labour.

“There are going to be questions about why it collapsed and those questions have to be answered,” Dan Hefkey, the Ontario Commissioner of Community Safety told reporters.

Toronto company, Priestly Demolition Inc. was recruited Tuesday in the rescue efforts, bringing in a large specialized crane and a small fleet of heavy equipment to assist in a controlled demolition.

The site was at first called “too dangerous” for rescue workers to enter – there was a threat of a second collapse.

Officials had called off the rescue mission, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty insisted they pursue more “extreme measures” Monday night. McGuinty spoke with Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton and is en route to the town, where he will meet with community members and first responders.

Neadles said the original plan was to use the heavy equipment to drop the arm of the heavy machinery into the gaping hole of the mall to retrieve a concrete slab that fell over an escalator.

The machinery, however, was unable to position itself on the ground.

The rescue team decided to focus its efforts on clearing the front entrance instead.

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Once they were inside the building, they noted that the fallen concrete hadn’t collapsed because a beam had been jammed in between.

“We were not able to search in the area of the escalators because of serious risk factors,” Neadles said.

The two-storey centre was built in the early 1980s and received a passing grade last month following a structural examination, according to Eastwood Mall Inc., which owns the mall.

The mall houses a grocery store, restaurants and a number of retail outlets. A hotel is also attached to the centre.

At the scene is a tangled mess of twisted metal and concrete supports protruding from the rubble. A gas leak was triggered, forcing emergency officials to cut power to the mall and at the peak of the tragedy, a local state of emergency was declared.

Residents have told reporters in the past few days of the perpetual damage and repairs that were needed at the mall.

With files from The Canadian Press 

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