A canine unit from Heavy Urban Search and Rescue is still on site at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.
Credits: JOHN LAPPA/QMI AGENCY
ELLIOT LAKE, ON - Up to 12 people are still unaccounted for, and the chance anyone survived beneath the rubble is "very slim," said officials Tuesday afternoon, updating the rescue and recovery efforts at the Algo Centre Mall.
Emergency workers are awaiting heavy mine rescue machinery in a final attempt to find survivors among the rubble.
Crowds of people, who have been hoping for a miracle since the roof of the mall caved in two floors of the mall Saturday afternoon, watched Tuesday morning as two cranes arrived at the mall to resume operations.
"We'll do everything we can to hopefully secure the building and get in there," McGuinty said at a Toronto press conference Tuesday. "I'm not going to second guess the decisions that were made on the ground ... The good news is, we're doing everything we can. Equipment will be there shortly. Hopefully we can begin to dismantle the building in a way that lets us get safe access to the people there."
One person was confirmed dead in the rubble Monday afternoon, but rescue crews said they heard a soft tapping within the debris earlier in the day, giving hope that at least one person was still alive. However, no signs of life have been detected since then, said Bill Neadles, of the the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue.
The team doctor said there was a "very slim ability for that person to remain alive," Neadles said Tuesday afternoon.
The emotionally charged decision to halt the rescue mission on Monday due to safety concerns about the structural integrity of the building didn't sit well with the people of Elliot Lake.
Michael Croke, a long-time miner and mine rescue worker, started a petition to allow him and his fellow volunteers to go into the rubble.
"They're giving up. We're just another option to send people in," he said. "They're saying this building is unsafe. This building has been unsafe since 1979 ... but I'm sure it can be done."
Later, about 50 community members protested outside city hall Monday night and the mall's owner began exploring legal avenues to have the rescue resume before McGuinty made the call for rescuers to "leave no stone unturned."
The search was called off after engineers discovered the beams that supported the escalator and stairs - the focus of the rescue operation - were bowing and separating from the building.
Neadles defended the decision Tuesday, saying the operation exceeded his team's authority once the Ministry of Labour deemed the building unsafe.
He added a specialized piece of equipment - a machine with an "articulating arm" and a 150-foot reach - was headed to the site to perform a "controlled dismantling" of the escalator and try to clear a path to the victims.
But officials are now hesitant to call it a rescue mission. When the site is deemed safe again, they will send in both a search dog and a cadaver dog.
Outside the mall, Elliot Lake resident Gary Gendron said he believes his fiancee, Lucie Aylwin, who worked at a lottery kiosk in the mall, is still alive under the rubble because the couple routinely tapped a code to each other to show their love.
"I know she's still alive," a tearful Gendron told CBC. "As soon as she gets well we're going to get married."
Aylwin's friends and family were also gathered outside, determined to see her pulled out alive.
"She has to be (alive)," long-time friend Bianka Manning said Tuesday. "Why would we feel something?"
Aylwin suffers from diabetes and arthritis, Manning said.
At least 22 people were injured in the collapse, none seriously.
The fluctuating list of unaccounted-for people stood at 12 as of Tuesday afternoon.
"We've gone through hundreds of names...we still cannot determine how many people are there," said Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore.
Authorities have been focusing mostly on two missing people whose vehicles were found in the mall's parking lot.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offered military assistance if required.
"Officials are in contact with the province to determine what federal assets would be of use," said Harper's spokesman, Andrew MacDougall.
- with files from Rita Poliakov and Reuters