Elliot Lake mall roof collapse rescue crews scramble to start search for victims

Elliot Lake mall roof collapse injures more than 20 in northern Ontario (Radio Canada photo)

The devastation at the Algo Centre Mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake looked like a scene from a war film on Sunday morning. A day earlier, metal and concrete crashed through two floors of the shopping centre, injuring 22 and leaving several missing. Authorities now report that at least two people are trapped under the rubble, one of them presumed dead.

"Ontario Provincial Police says images of the scene show a hand and a foot in the dusty debris, which is still too unstable for crews to access," the Canadian Press reports.

"Fire officials also say they have heard some taps coming from behind fallen slabs of concrete and metal."

The list of people unaccounted for was two-pages long at first, but has since shrank to about nine missing, Ontario Provincial Police say. It continues to decrease as members of the community locate one another. The city of about 11,000 is in shock.

A Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) team was dispatched from Toronto to help on Saturday, the Toronto Star reports. Fire, police, EMS, sniffer dogs and other specialists made the team.

According to the Canadian Press, it could take another 12 hours to stabilize the scene.

The collapsed section of the mall used to be a rooftop parking lot. The building, which is almost 30 years old, has been undergoing repairs, but none of these were major structural fixes, Rhonda Bear, the mall's manager, told CBC News.

[ Related: See photos from the collapse ]

Amateur videos showing the post-collapse mall started circulating online after the city, located midway between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie, became an overnight sensation.

Four hurt in Mall roof collapseFour people are injured as the roof of a shopping mall in Canada caves in

"It happened so fast and my first thought was, I have to turn my gas off, I have a restaurant," Elaine Quinte, who owns Hungry Jack's at the mall, told CBC.

"All of a sudden I started getting hit by some of the rubble. I turned around. I saw other people in the food court running out of the doors. I remember seeing the concrete. There was instantly so much dust, first you saw [the food court], and then you didn't."

Questions about the building's stability aren't new for the Algo Centre Mall, the Globe and Mail reports. The Standard, a local newspaper, once wrote that leaks and deficiencies were a cause for concern at the mall. The owner reportedly spent $1.1-million to stop roof leaks about four years ago.

More recently, in March, the mall management pleaded guilty to violating the fire code safety regulations, CBC reports.

The owner of the mall had little to say about the collapse this morning.

"I'd rather not [comment], because we have talked to our lawyers and we [are] going to be in the city hall to represent ourselves," he told the Globe and Mail.

"But nevertheless, we are very much concerned [about] this accident."

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This isn't the first structural collapse shocking Ontario this month. Just a week ago, on June 16, a Toronto stage collapsed killing one ahead of an outdoor Radiohead concert.

An Elliot Lake collapse information line  for members of the public has been set up at 1-888-310-1122.

UPDATE (June 25 7:15 AM): One person is believed to have died in the collapse and officials are still working to stabilize a section of the mall in order to reach victims who may still be trapped in the rubble.

Crews worked throughout the night in an attempt to stabilize the twisted wreckage before attempting to reach anyone caught inside, according to the incident commander from Toronto's heavy urban search and rescue team, which was deployed to help in the effort.

"It's just very unstable and unsafe for the crew to go in there," Bill Needles said Sunday. "So we have to do a very slow and tedious, but safe, entry."

- With files from the CBC and The Canadian Press.