A heavy-duty specialized crane is being used to slowly dismantle the facade of a badly damaged mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., where rescue teams plan to methodically remove sections of the structure in a desperate attempt to find anyone trapped by debris.

Twelve people are still unaccounted for, according to officials, who earlier had estimated as many as 30 were unaccounted for following Saturday's partial roof collapse at the Algo Centre Mall.

The controlled demolition on Tuesday night was part of a renewed bid to rescue any survivors.

One person so far has been confirmed dead.

A rescue official said Tuesday that a doctor has told him the chances are slim that anyone is still alive, but many locals are holding out hope that people will be hauled out of the wreckage.

The specialized crane, which came in three sections, will be used to push a large piece of escalator rubble away from the location where rescuers believe two people were trapped. Searchers and canine units will then attempt to enter the area.

A crowd that gathered outside the Algo Centre Mall cheered Tuesday night when the crane started working, CBC's Philip Lee-Shanok reported. He said the crane was demolishing upper levels, above the damaged escalator that has created so many complications for rescue workers.

While some residents cheered, others expressed concern that tearing chunks from the building might jeopardize the safety of anyone clinging to life within the rubble.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=2642 size=small]

"It's heart-breaking, just knowing the instability of the building, that it might be causing more destruction on the inside," said 39-year-old Penny Craig.

"It's horrifying to think what the people who may still be alive might be going through."

Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton said the heavy equipment from a Toronto construction firm is just part of an arsenal of equipment being provided or on standby from private interests and different levels of government following the weekend roof collapse at Algo Centre Mall.

"We will do everything and anything to keep this going," Hamilton said.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a statement Tuesday that he knows "all Ontarians will join with me tonight in putting their faith in this rescue mission as, together, we continue to hope that those who are missing can be found and reunited with their loved ones."

"In the meantime, we will continue to watch, and pray, and hold all the people of Elliot Lake in our thoughts."

Staff Insp. Bill Neadles, from the Heavy Urban Search And Rescue Team in Toronto, told reporters in a Tuesday afternoon update that they would "see some very serious machinery roll into town in the next couple of hours to advance our operation and move into that building as safely as we can."

When asked by CBC's Ron Charles whether Toronto's urban search and rescue team has worked on similar operations, Neadles said it was involved in efforts during a Toronto gas explosion on Bloor Street that killed seven people in 2003.

"Are we experienced as we'd like to be?" Neadles said. "We train, we do very well and we do have some experience."

Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore said it has been a challenge trying to determine who, if anyone, remains trapped underneath the debris.

"We have compiled a list of people calling in ... who have been in and around the mall at the time of the collapse," he said. "At last count, it was 30, but that now stands at 12.

"As you can imagine, we've gone through hundreds of names — we still cannot determine how many people are there. We really just don't know," added Jollymore.

At least one Canadian Forces member is heading to Elliot Lake to help with communication between Emergency Management Ontario and the Forces. An earlier report had suggested there were two Forces members heading to the northern Ontario town.

The liaison officer will arrive Wednesday and work to ensure communication between the municipality, EMO and the Forces, if needed, because there hasn't yet been a request from the provincial government for their help.

Man's fiancée among those likely trapped

Gary Gendron, whose fiancée, Lucie Aylwin, was working in the mall and is now missing, is among residents anxiously awaiting the restart of the search.

"I'm going to be here when they pull her out," Gendron told CBC's Heather Hiscox early Tuesday morning.

Gendron has faith that his fiancée is safe.

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Gary Gendron says he believes his fiancée is still inside the collapsed mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. (CBC)

"She's a good-hearted person just like the way I am," Gendron said, adding that he and Aylwin had breakfast together Saturday morning before she set out for her job at a lottery kiosk in the mall.

Rescue workers believed they heard tapping Sunday following the disaster, and Gendron said that signalled to him that Aylwin was trapped inside.

"Every time that we go on holidays or ... if there is a bathroom next to each other, we always do the tap-tap twice," he said. "I know it sounds maybe dumb and stupid, but it is not. It is cute actually. We always did it from Day 1 when we started being together."

Gendron said an earlier decision to end the search was "devastating." 

One woman who escaped the collapse believes she is the last person to have seen Aylwin. Lyn, who asked CBC not to use her last name, was buying a lottery ticket at the kiosk when the roof caved in.

"She's just there and it's like she just went right through the floor. I didn't see her," Lyn said. "One second she's in front of me, next minute, she's gone. I don't know what happened. It was so fast, and I can't get it out of my mind."

A family friend of one of the other missing women, Doloris Perizzolo, said life has changed for everybody in Elliot Lake.

"After 2:19 on June 23, things changed here, it was not the same," said Adam Ayotte.

He thanked people for supporting the family, but said they would like to left alone so they can "grieve at their own pace."

Some people had protested in front of city hall when the search was initially called off. 

News that search efforts would resume was met with a chorus of screams and whistles Monday night from a group of residents who had gathered outside the mall.

Judy Pine, who has lived in the community on and off for 35 years, said she went to the mall after hearing that the hunt for people trapped in the wreckage would resume.

"They are family, they are friends, and we are a very close-knit community," she said. "To walk out when there could be somebody alive is just beyond understanding, and we just weren't going to stand for it."

Premier warns new search plan carries risk

At least one person was killed —  although no name has been released — after part of the mall's roof caved in on Saturday afternoon, sending metal and concrete plunging two storeys to a lower level.

Hours earlier, McGuinty warned that the new search strategy has its risks, telling reporters that "people need to understand there is real risk associated with [dismantling the building from the outside] because of the collapse and the structural stresses.

"It is not unlike a house of cards, and it might be that if you pull away at this wall in an effort to get access to somebody who is trapped there, it may cause other things to move and other things to tumble and crumble," said McGuinty, adding Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged military and other aid if needed to help in the search efforts.  

One expert in urban search and rescue warned that sending rescuers into the building could lead to more fatalities.

"It's sort of a heroic effort that people want to make," said Alexander Ferworn, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. "But they [can] become casualties themselves."

It's uncertain when exactly search efforts will resume in the community 150 kilometres west of Sudbury following an outcry by local residents and the appeal from McGuinty.

They were halted Monday after the site was deemed too dangerous, with the possibility of another collapse, provoking anger among many residents who felt that officials could do more to help those trapped inside.

The news of renewed search efforts only a few hours later came as McGuinty said he had spoken to Emergency Management Ontario and the search and rescue team.

'People are on pins and needles'

The CBC's Natalie Kalata said Tuesday morning that "people are on pins and needles," waiting for search efforts to resume.

"Last night, people were singing and holding up candlelight, and they were really hoping that somebody would be found alive inside," she said.

John Quinte, who owns a café in the mall, told CBC News that he narrowly escaped being caught in the dangerous circumstances because he went home before the roof's partial collapse. He said he has been camping out near the mall since the weekend because "everybody in this community is like family."

Quinte and other members of the community are frustrated by the slow pace of the rescue work.

"We don't want anybody to risk their life and die, but there must be some way that we can do something to help get these people out of here without risking everybody's life."

In the aftermath of the collapse, many residents said the mall has had a history of problems dating back to 2005, including roof leaks, flooding and falling tiles.

Mall manager Rhonda Bear has said repairs were conducted on the building but not on the section that collapsed, adding that an engineering and structural study completed last month turned up nothing.

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Elliot Lake mall collapse (CBC Infographic)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling of Doloris Perizzolo's name.
    Jun 28, 2012 4:40 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press