Ottawa

'Just wished that I said goodbye': Family mourns Eastway worker missing after deadly blast

Etienne Mabiala is one of the Eastway Tank employees missing and presumed dead after Thursday's explosion at the south Ottawa tanker truck manufacturer. His daughters say he was a hard worker and a dedicated father whose smile could light up a room.

Search still underway following fatal explosion at Ottawa tanker truck manufacturer

Etienne Mabiala wears a origami boat made by his daughter, Celeste, on his head. His family is remembering Mabiala, who is missing and presumed dead after an explosion at an Ottawa tanker truck manufacturer, as a lovable teddy bear with a smile that lit up a room (Submitted by Darlene Mabiala)

The daughters of one of the Eastway Tank employees missing and presumed dead after Thursday's explosion are remembering him as a hard worker and a dedicated father whose smile could light up a room.

"I just want people to know that he was a good, good person," said Darlene Mabiala about her father, Etienne, on Saturday.

"He was the best. And honestly, the house feels empty without him," added her sister, Celeste.

Six people are believed to have died after a violent explosion ripped through the tanker truck manufacturer on Merivale Road at around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 13.

Officials have only confirmed the death of one person, but say five others have not been located and are believed to have died in the blast and subsequent fire.

Etienne Mabiala, his daughters recalled, was a lovable teddy bear who'd dance at home to music on his headphones, often singing along to lyrics he didn't know — much to the amusement of his family.

He was the sort of man, they said, who would drive them to five different stores when they were children, just to find a sold-out toy.

And he was a loving husband who'd call their mother every time he had lunch.

"He really loved us all," Darlene said. "And he really, really loved my mom."

Celeste Mabiala, top left, and Darlene Mabiala, top right, pose for a photo with their mother Nathalie and father Etienne. (Submitted by Darlene Mabiala)

Born in the Republic of Congo in June 1962, Mabiala moved to Canada decades ago. Before becoming an electrician, he worked as an airplane engineer for Air Afrique in Senegal.

His daughters called him a "genius" whose engineering aptitude not only allowed him to work without manuals but also to help them with complicated math and science problems in school.

"[He was] such a hard worker and educated and, like, humble," Celeste said.

Didn't answer phone

Mabiala would typically pick up his daughters after work, but when they called him Thursday, his phone went to voicemail.

"I'm not sure if they're going to find his body," Darlene said. "That's the thing I was most worried about. Just not finding him."

Charlotte Rothgeb, one of Mabiala's former co-workers at Eastway Tank, also thought of him when she heard about the explosion.

"He was really shy," Rothgeb said.

"But if you caught him at the right time, and if you had a big smile on your face and said 'hi' to him, he had, like, the biggest smile on his face."

She said workers at Eastway were a close-knit group, almost like family.

"I can't stop thinking about it. It's just so sad," Rothgeb said. "It feels so awful. I feel so bad for them all, like all their families."

While the family has grieved for Etienne over the last two days, Darlene said there are things she wished she had a chance to say to him while he was alive.

"I feel like maybe sometimes I took it for granted," she said. "I just wished that I said goodbye that morning."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

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