ELLIOT LAKE, Ontario – Officials recovered two bodies after dismantling a piece of a partially collapsed Ontario shopping mall on Wednesday and said they are confident no other victims are inside. The renewed rescue effort came after angry residents shouted down fears that the unstable structure made the work too risky to continue.
Police Staff Insp. Bill Neadles of the Toronto-based Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team said both victims have been removed.
Rescuers had not detected signs of life after detecting breathing inside the rubble early Monday, nearly two days after Saturday's collapse. Authorities called off work Monday afternoon amid fears of another collapse, but dozens of angry residents protested in front of City Hall, saying that abandoning trapped comrades would be unthinkable in the culture of the city, a former mining community.
Work at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake resumed late Tuesday, with anxious residents camping outside and watching a huge robotic arm strip away the mall's facade.
Mayor Rick Hamilton said that now that the structure has been partially dismantled, rescuers would make certain no one else was trapped inside, though no survivors are expected to be found.
Neadles called it a miracle that only two people died when the roof collapsed onto an area near the food court and directly over a lottery kiosk.
"I had the opportunity to review the security film, and it is a miracle. There were 26 people in the food court," he said. "There were people that had just left the lottery terminal three seconds before. I know it's very unfortunate what's happened, but it's a very big miracle that it wasn't so much more devastating."
A visibly emotional Neadles said his workers received the community's reaction that they halted the search too early very hard. He said they didn't have the authority or equipment to continue and had to wait until Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty authorized an alternative plan.
"It's devastated us," Neadles said. "We'd stay another four or five weeks if we had to."
A crowd of residents at the news conference gave Neadles a standing ovation.
Neadles said he halted work because he had 37 rescuers at risk. He said he couldn't continue despite knowing that there were signs of life in the rubble merely hours before. Rescuers used remote equipment to detect the breathing early Monday and also heard tapping from the location early in the rescue efforts.
"It wasn't something that we wanted to do. It weighs very heavily on me to have to turn around to leave that individual in a position so helpless," Neadles said. "That's a decision I had to make. And I will tell you straight out again I would make it today, tomorrow and next week. I just couldn't put those men in a perilous position."
McGuinty said the province will take time to review how rescuers responded to the collapse.
"I learned as you did that there was some discussion about not moving ahead with the search at one particular time. I reacted as all of you did and all Ontarians did, so I phoned some of the folks in charge and said 'Is there not something we might continue to do?'" McGuinty said. "There was another option and that's what ensued."
McGuinty identified the victims as Lucie Aylwin and Dolores Parizolo. Aylwin's fiancée. Gary Gendron, had said Aylwin worked at the lottery kiosk in the mall.
At least 22 people suffered minor injuries when a portion of the mall roof that serves as a parking area crumbled into an area near the mall's food court. The collapse left behind a gaping hole which was 12 meters (39 feet) by 24 meters (79 feet).
Many residents said the building was much in need of repairs, and officials from the Ontario Ministry of Labour had previously visited the mall because of complaints of water leaks
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.