Elliot Lake mall collapse victims speak of nightmares

Eyewitnesses to the deadly collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., testified at an inquiry today, describing the concrete and debris that crashed down without warning.

Family members of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo testify at public inquiry

Eyewitnesses to the deadly collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., testified at an inquiry today, describing the concrete and debris that crashed down without warning.

During testimony on Wednesday, they spoke of the nightmares that still haunt their sleep more than a year after two women perished under the rubble.

"Everything happened so fast. It sounded like a bunch of pipes falling. Then everything was gone," said Adam Amyotte, who was in the mall that day.

"One thing I remember: Somebody yelling, 'Help!’"

As relatives of the two victims — Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74 — looked on, Amyotte talked about the desolation he felt when the search for survivors was suspended.

"We were told there were signs of life. The whole community was told there were signs of life, and they were giving up," he said. "It still hurts."

911 calls presented as evidence

The second phase of the inquiry, which began Wednesday, is probing the emergency response to the collapse on June 23, 2012.

It began with screening of surveillance video — some of it showing Perizzolo at a nearly deserted lottery kiosk where Aylwin worked one day a month — seconds before the collapse.

Commissioner Paul Belanger warned that watching the video and listening to 911 calls that were played could be difficult.

"Certain aspects of the evidence may be upsetting and may be traumatic," Belanger said.

Some relatives chose to leave the hearing room.

Yves Bérubé, 50, who co-owned a store in the mall, noted business was particularly slow that day because many regulars were outdoors enjoying the fine weather.

Bérubé stepped outside and was about to light a cigarette when the collapse occurred.

"Behind me was a large boom," he said. "Doors blew open, clouds of dust came flying out."

He rushed back inside. It was "just pure reaction," he said.

"Dust clouds and water blasting everywhere."

‘Try my best to forget it’

Inside, Bérubé came across Jean-Marie Marceau, 80, who was covered in blood.

Marceau had been knocked unconscious for about 15 to 20 minutes by falling debris. He came to less than a metre from a gaping hole.

"I try my best to forget it," Marceau said. "It's the best way."

Bérubé found an elderly woman sitting in a chair, surrounded by concrete and debris, but miraculously unscathed.

Another young woman was crawling over a pile of rubble, looking for survivors, until he warned her to leave in case the rest of the mall crashed down.

Bérubé's store was all but destroyed, and he salvaged nothing.

Surveillance video caught Jason Morrissey, 34, and his wife walking across the rooftop parking deck into the mall just before it collapsed.

"Bang, bang, bang, bang. The whole thing came down," Morrissey said.

He yanked his wife, who was a pace or two in front of him, back by the collar. She was grazed on the head and leg by falling concrete, but not seriously injured.

Commission report due February 2014

The first part of the inquiry — which looked into what led to the collapse — formally ended Tuesday, with the last of about 70 witnesses testifying.

Evidence heard since March was how the mall, badly designed and built, leaked from the start. Successive owners did little to address the problem substantively.

Ultimately, rust due to decades of salt and water penetration weakened a weld, leading a steel support to give way.

Among those expected to testify in the coming months are local and provincial emergency responders as well as government officials, including former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.

The commission is hoping to issue its final report and recommendations around February of next year.

The inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in the community since March.

Elliot Lake Inquiry schedule:

Witness Name

Dates  (subject to change)


Introduction of exhibits (photos, audios and videos)

August 7, 2013

Adam Amyotte, Eye witness

August 7, 2013

Jean-Marie Marceau, Eye witness

August 7, 2013

Yves Bérubé, Eye witness

August 7, 2013

Jason Morrissey, Eye witness

August 7, 2013

Darrin Latulippe and Teresa Perizzolo (Perizzolo family), Victim Family

August 7, 2013

Gary Gendron, Victim Family

August 7, 2013

Rejean and Rachelle Aylwin (Aylwin family), Victim Family  *Please note that they will testify in French

August 8, 2013

Dan Hefkey, Ontario's Commissioner of Community Safety, Emergency Management Ontario  ** Government of Ontario Overview Witness (with respect to emergency response) - limited to policies and procedures evidence

August 8, 2013

Dale Burns, OPP photographer

August 9, 2013 

With files from CBC News