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Two mauled in Churchill polar bear attack

A polar bear mother and her two cubs walk along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill in 2007. Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

Two people were mauled and two polar bears were shot in Churchill, Man., on Friday morning.

Three people were walking home when they turned around and saw a polar bear, Churchill Mayor Michael Spence said.

“The bear grabbed one of the youngest ladies and attacked her,” Spence said Friday morning.

Bill Ayotte, who lives in the home closest to the spot where the bear attacked, heard the screams and went outside to help, grabbing a nearby shovel.

“The bear then turned on him,” Spence said.

Other people heard the noise of the attack and tried to scare off the bear by firing shots toward it and throwing things at it, Spence said, but the bear was undeterred.

“He was very aggressive and would not leave.”

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A young man got in a vehicle and Spence said he was told he actually pushed the bear away from Ayotte with the vehicle.

Witnesses estimated the mauling lasted four or five minutes, the mayor said.

“That’s a long time,” he said. “You’re helpless. There’s not much you can do.”

Ayotte, 69, is in hospital with lacerations. The 30-year-old woman was also taken to hospital with injuries.

Natural resource officers were called in and shot and injured the bear.

As they tracked the injured bear through town they came across a bear that they shot and killed, but it wasn’t the one responsible for the attack, a Manitoba Conservation spokesman said. A cub was found nearby and taken to the polar bear holding facility in town.

The polar bear responsible for the attack was found dead a short time later in the same area.

“In such an emergency, the safety of people is paramount and when there is an immediate threat, staff are trained to follow carefully developed policies and practices in order to ensure no one else is injured and the animals involved do not escape,” a statement from Manitoba Conservation said.

The town is shaken and they mayor, who also owns the local hotel, took some of his staff who witnessed the mauling to the hospital to be treated for shock.

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“People are concerned for Bill and the young lady who was mauled,” Spence said. “We’re just hoping that he’s going to be OK.”

The attack came hours after Halloween trick-or-treaters left the streets.

The town makes special preparations for Halloween, Spence said, with adults surrounding the town to make sure polar bears don’t enter while children are out.

“That’s just the way it is in our community.”

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