Elliot Lake mall collapse: tracking the rescue effort
Part of Elliot Lake's Algo Centre Mall roof caved in on June 23, sending metal and concrete plunging two storeys to the floor. Rescue efforts following the disaster were stopped because the safety of the team was in question, but resumed after pleas from residents and politicians.
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 in May turned up nothing.
Here is a chronology of major events surrounding the mall collapse and rescue effort.
Thursday June 28
- Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty meets with Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton to discuss an aid plan to help the community cope with economic and emotional loss.
- McGuinty promises Thursday that the Ontario government will "carefully review" how it responded to the collapse, and examine the incident in its entirety, which would include placing the history of the mall under "intense review."
- The regional coroner's office, with the assistance of provincial police, continues to investigate the deaths of the two women who died when an avalanche of concrete and metal crashed through a part of the mall. The Ministry of Labour, which visited the shopping centre six times in the past three years, is also investigating.
Wednesday June 27
- An ambulance arrives around 7 a.m. and rescue work halts temporarily around 7:30 as rescue officials call a meeting with the families of the missing. No official explanation is made.
- A Canadian Forces member heads to Elliot Lake to help with communications between Emergency Management Ontario, the municipality and, if required, the Armed Forces.
- 7:30 a.m.: Dan Hefkey, commissioner of community safety for Ontario, says that using the robotic arm on special demolition equipment, crews have been able to move a massive section of an escalator and stairs that had prevented rescue workers from entering the mall. A robot examines the area and determines that no other debris had fallen as a result of the work, but Hefkey says more material needs to be removed and a structural engineer needs to asses the safety of the area before a canine unit can be sent in to try to locate survivors. "I cannot give you a timeline; it’s going as quickly as it can, as safely as it can," he says.
- 7:45 a.m.: Bill Neadles from the Toronto-based Heavy Urban Search And Rescue Team says that no one has detected any signs of life since Monday morning, and warns that a team doctor believes the chances of anyone still being alive in the wreckage are "very slim."
- 8 a.m.: Dan Hefkey says it's unclear whether this is still a rescue mission or a recovery mission.
- At 8:15 a.m.: CBC's Natalie Kalata reports that Gary Gendron, whose fiancée, Lucie Aylwin, is believed to be in the ruins of Algo Centre Mall, told her he has received "good signs" from officials that there may still be survivors in the wreckage.
- 8:45 a.m.: It's confirmed that rescue crews are back in the mall.
- 9:30 a.m.: The remains of one unidentified person are located and removed from the mall.
- Around 1 p.m., a second victim is removed from the mall. Canine units helped locate both bodies.
- In a three-hour press conference that begins at 1:15 p.m., HUSAR's Bill Neadles says he doesn't believe any other bodies are trapped inside the structure, though rescuers still have to sift through a large pile of rubble. Neadles and other officials describe for the first time in detail how they handled the emergency.
- Trauma to the two bodies hamper efforts to identity the victims, according to officials. Lucie Aylwin was believed to have been trapped in the ruins of Algo Centre Mall. A second missing woman was identified as Doloris Perizzolo.
- Around 5:30, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty pledges to order a "thorough review" of the emergency response. "We need to carefully review how we responded to this tragedy," the premier tells a news conference.
- "I've met with the families of Doloris and Lucie in their times of grief," McGuinty says, adding that he has offered his condolences to the families.
- Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore says his department is assisting the Ministry of Labour and the coroner's office.
Tuesday June 26
- Rescuers worked through the morning to figure out new ways to reach anyone trapped in the rubble.
- Reports say PREP Services International volunteers offer to help in the effort, but are turned down by the OPP.
- Mike Mantha, MPP for Algoma Manitoulin, tells CBC News early in the morning that he is calling for Ontario Premier McGuinty to request help from the military.
- The Prime Minister's Office says federal resources are available to Elliot Lake if they're needed.
- The list of missing people continues to fluctuate. Officials say they know at least two of the people on the list were in the mall when it collapsed, including Lucie Aylwin. One person is confirmed dead, but police don't release the name.
- Around noon, McGuinty tells reporters he received the approval of Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton and Mike Mantha, MPP for Algoma, for "additional, extraordinary measures." He says he has also asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper for resources that may involve military aid to help in the search efforts.
- Around 1 p.m., Priestly Demolition heavy equipment arrives in Elliot Lake.
- Crews begin dismantling part of the mall's facade.
- The official list of missing people stands at 12, down from an original estimate of 30, according to an OPP press conference held at 1:30 p.m.
- Staff Insp. Bill Neadles, head of the search and rescue team, announces that crews will resume search efforts with the goal of dismantling the outside of the building, pending the arrival of a heavy crane.
- A crane and more heavy equipment from Priestly Demolition arrive just after 6 p.m.
- Rescue work continues through the night, with crews using sophisticated detection and demolition equipment.
- No signs of life are detected by searchers through the afternoon and evening.
Monday June 25
- Rescue teams working in the rubble report around 4 a.m. that they detected "signs of life" in the mall using scanning technology.
- Rescuers working their way through the collapsed area of the mall estimate that they've been able to get within about 30 metres of at least one survivor.
- Rescue efforts are halted around 5 p.m. after engineers from HUSAR and the Ministry of Labour determined the site is too dangerous for rescue workers to continue, due to the possibility of another collapse. The decision provokes anger among many residents who felt that officials could do more to help those trapped inside.
- Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks to Emergency Management Ontario and the search and rescue team in the evening and asks them to look at all possible means of reaching victims without endangering rescuers, including the use of equipment to dismantle the building from the outside.
- HUSAR calls Priestly Demolition to see if heavy equipment is available that could help with the rescue efforts.
- Around 10 p.m., McGuinty makes a public statement urging the rescuers to continue with their effort and "Leave no stone unturned." Paul Officer, the Elliot Lake fire chief, announces that rescue operations will continue through the night.
- Premier McGuinty speaks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the situation around 10:30 p.m. Harper offers to send military personnel to help.
- A crowd of hundreds gathers to watch rescue efforts.
- The team calls off the search for the night, but a group of angry bystanders attempted to block equipment from leaving the site. Police step in.
- Officials announce that a team will re-enter the mall and continue the search for survivors.
Sunday June 24
- Early in the morning, Toronto's Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team arrives, led by Toronto police Staff Insp. Bill Neadles.
- During site reconnaissance, the urban extraction team reports hearing a "series of taps," according to HUSAR leader Bill Neadles. The team uses a drill and camera in attempt to get a visual confirmation near the location of the taps, but no contact is made.
- Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty issues a statement thanking the rescue crews in Elliot Lake. "During a crisis like this, I am reminded of the strength and resilience of Northern Ontarians, and how by pulling together with our friends, families and neighbours, we can get through these difficult times."
- At a press conference, police say they have visual confimation of a hand and foot in the rubble, and confirm one fatality. The body is not recovered at the time, because the "location is such, we can’t approach it at this time," and the victim is not identified.
- Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton says, "Examination of the scene continues to indicate that there’s still a rescue."
- Bill Neadles says 10 to 12 hours of "further stabilization" of the collapsed building required before a search can begin.
Saturday June 23
- The roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, about 150 kilometres west of Sudbury, collapses at 2:20 p.m. The part of the roof that caved in served as a parking area for customers and mall staff.
- Editor of Elliot Lake Standard, who happened to be at the mall covering an event, records audio of the collapse, including fire alarm and what sounds like the crash of a ‘massive wave.’ Joe Drazil, a Zellers employee at the mall says cars appear to have fallen through a hole near escalators "you can see the roof with the cars hanging inside."
- Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton declares a state of emergency at 4 p.m., which means provincial emergency crews can be called in. The mayor says four are injured, an unknown number are missing, and is unable to confirm whether there were any fatalities. Reports say the mall traffic was quieter than usual for a Saturday at the time of the disaster.
- A gas leak is detected at the mall around 6 p.m., and emergency officials turn off the mall's power to prevent an explosion.
- Rhonda Bear, the Algo Centre Mall manager, tells CBC News that the mall has been doing repair and maintenance work on parts of its roof over the last year, but "there hasn't been any huge structural repairs" to the section of the mall that gave way. She also said that the owners of the mall, Toronto-based Eastwood Mall Inc., ordered an engineering and structural study on the nearly 30-year-old building, parking lot and adjoining hotel a month before the collapse, but "It turned up nothing."
- A special OPP "urban extraction" squad based in Toronto, called the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team (HUSAR), is dispatched to Elliot Lake around 9 p.m.
- Rescue crews work through the night, and hear sounds from the wreckage that might indicate trapped survivors.
- An earlier version of this story reported that HUSAR on June 25 said the Ministry of Labour decided the site was too dangerous for rescue workers. In fact, an engineer with the Ministry of Labour and another with HUSAR determined the building could fall at anytime. Bill Neadles, the head of the HUSAR team, said that he then had to make the decision to not send rescue workers back into the building.Dec 04, 2012 9:48 AM ET