Rescue operation underway as heavy machinery rolls into Elliot Lake, Ont. - InfoNews

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Rescue operation underway as heavy machinery rolls into Elliot Lake, Ont.

Rejean Aylwin, left, the father of Lucie Aylwin who is presumed trapped in the wreckage of the Algo Centre Mall, stands by a memorial in Elliot Lake, Ont., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Rescue workers are attempting a new plan to search for survivors after the mall's roof collapsed Saturday . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
June 26, 2012 - 5:39 PM

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - A huge machine with a robotic arm of "Transformers" proportions is on the road to Elliot Lake, in northern Ontario, as part of the renewed bid to retrieve at least two people from the wreckage of a collapsed shopping mall.

The dangerous rescue mission — which has won support from both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty — would see the robotic arm deliberately topple some of the more fragile structures within the rubble of the Algo Centre Mall.

Bill Neadles of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team said a precariously balanced escalator whose imminent collapse turned would-be rescuers away from the site on Monday will now be demolished under strict supervision.

The specialized machine currently, en route from Toronto, will knock the escalators away from the victims, he said.

"Once we get this machine set up in front of the building, the arm will be able to reach up over top of the structure and plop itself down right on the floor," Neadles said. "It seems like that's kind of "Transformers" kind of stuff, but that's what they're assuring me we can do."

The machine, which is so large it had to be loaded onto three separate tractor trailers each 30 metres long, is expected to arrive Tuesday evening. It has a reach of 45 metres feet, can carry six tonnes and is able to claw, cut, shear and pinch, said Neadles.

Once the escalator is out of the way and structural engineers give crews the green light to enter, crews will resume the laborious task of securing the structure as they edge towards the spot where they believe the victims are lying, about 12 metres from the south corner of the building.

Officials stressed, however, that the likelihood of finding survivors is increasingly slim.

No one has detected signs of life since Monday morning, Neadles said, adding the prognosis is not positive.

"Based on the information that we supplied him, [our doctor] was of the opinion that it was a very slim ability for that person to remain alive," said Neadles.

At least one person is confirmed dead after the roof of the shopping mall crashed through the two-floor building on Saturday afternoon. More than 20 people were injured, none of them seriously.

Meanwhile, the number of those still unaccounted for has been knocked down to 12, officials said Tuesday.

Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore said officers are keeping a list of people reported missing, but said the numbers change frequently as community members make contact with their loved ones.

"We are getting calls basically from all around Canada. We're really looking for people who could be in the mall," Jollymore said. "We still cannot determine how many people are there. We just don't know."

Earlier in the day, both McGuinty and Elliot Lake residents voiced their determination to assist the rescue effort despite the disheartening odds.

"I thought it was important that we exercise every option, explore every possibility," McGuinty said. "I'm sure if that was your mom or your daughter or your brother, if somebody came to you and said, 'how far should we push,' I think we'd all say we need to go as far as we possibly can to rescue these individuals."

Community members agreed. Buoyed by renewed hope of saving survivors, they began organizing groups of volunteers willing to help with the operation.

Local residents were quick to voice their outrage on Monday after officials called off the rescue effort, loudly condemning crews for walking away from the operation too soon.

Rescuers had detected signs of life inside the mall earlier in the day, but aborted the search hours later after determining a secondary collapse was imminent.

That decision did not sit well with residents of this former mining hub, who gathered at city hall to voice their displeasure within moments of the announcement.

Among those hit hardest by the news was Rejean Aylwin, who said he believes his daughter Lucie Aylwin is inside.

"They just gave up," Aylwin said on Monday.

"It doesn't make sense. You can't give up. You've got to keep going until you find them."

Aylwin said he worked in a mine for 35 years and that culture among miners was to never leave someone to perish underground.

On Tuesday morning, at least 70 people had volunteered to assist with the renewed rescue effort.

Michael Croke said they're well-acquainted with the perils of such efforts.

The list of volunteers includes at least 30 former miners such as himself, as well as dozens of younger people willing to help remove rubble.

"We're not going in there blind and stupid," said Croke. "We'll go in there and do the same that they're doing. We'll check it out. But we also know the mall. Even though there's danger overhead, if you're in the rescue business, you've got to expect that kind of danger."

Catherine Timleck-Shaw said rescuers must remain optimistic if only for the sake of those who may have survived.

"As far as we're concerned, there's someone alive in there. And that person has a right to live," she said.

McGuinty said community members have the support of the entire province.

"They're not alone. We are 13 million Ontarians strong. They are part of the family," he said. "They have our prayers, but more than that, they have our active support."

- With files from Michelle McQuigge and Maria Babbage in Toronto.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the wrong first name for Rejean Aylwin and an incorrect last name for Bill Neadles

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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