Commission into Elliot Lake mall collapse holds first public meeting Wednesday | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Commission into Elliot Lake mall collapse holds first public meeting Wednesday

City orders sit affixed to emergency fencing around the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. The mall has been off-limits since part of it collapsed in June, killing two people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - Residents of this northern Ontario town get a chance Wednesday to meet the man they hope will answer the questions they have about the devastating mall collapse in June.

Scores of them are expected to attend an informal public gathering with Commissioner Paul Belanger and the lawyers who make up the judicial inquiry into the tragedy.

"We're just interested in finding out the kinds of impacts that they've had because this very central mall to the life of the community has now disappeared," said Bruce Carr-Harris, one of the lawyers.

Over the past few days, Carr-Harris and his co-counsel have made a few visits to the town, talking to community leaders and residents.

"Each time we come, we learn something a little extra about what may have happened here and what kind of information we need to get to answer our questions," he said outside the security fencing that now separates the mall and its remains from the community.

Some, however, just want to move beyond the blight represented by the pile of rubble in the middle of their town.

"I sit here every day, and look up and that's all I see," said Melanie Lafontaine, who works in a flower store just down the hill from what was the Algo Centre Mall.

"It's kind of horrible. I don't like looking at it anymore."

On June 23, part of the mall roof, which doubled as a parking garage, collapsed. Two people, Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, were pulled dead from the rubble. About 20 others were hurt.

The inquiry is looking into the circumstances of the collapse, as well as the emergency response, which some criticized as inadequate.

"Everybody has questions, and they all want answers," Lafontaine said.

"People are just going to wait and see what happens."

Michael Mantha, the area's provincial politician whose constituency office was in the mall, said people want to know why the tragedy happened and whether the ensuing rescue effort was the best possible.

But one question seems uppermost on their minds:

"Was this something that could have been prevented?" Mantha said.

"If it was, then who should have prevented it, or how could it have been prevented — what steps should have been taken?"

The collapse dealt a blow to the very heart of the community of about 13,500 people, taking with it 60 per cent of the town's retail space and destroying a favoured central gathering place, cool in summer, warm in winter.

Jobs for more than 100 people. Gone. The public library, with its free reading and Internet. Gone. Lower-price stores, such as Dollarama, the Bargain Shop, and Zellers. Gone. The Foodland supermarket. Gone. Government services. Scattered throughout town.

"It was a bad shock for us," said resident Barbara Vincent.

At the same time, she said, it is time to move on, time to stop talking about what was and what was lost.

"We need to forget about that mall and look forward to what's coming, and I'm sure what's coming is going to be better for sure," Vincent said.

Plans are underway to fast-track a new shopping mall not far from the now-condemned one, but it's unlikely to be operational before the end of next year, said Joyce Cyr, president of the area local chamber of commerce.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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