(Reuters) - Rescue workers removed two bodies from a collapsed shopping mall in the northern Ontario town of Elliot Lake on Wednesday and said they didn’t believe there was anyone else in the rubble, all but ending a four-day search for survivors.
The head of the rescue effort said he was “99 percent” certain no other victims will be found in the debris that rained down on shoppers when a rooftop parking lot collapsed into the two-story mall on Saturday afternoon.
“I believe there is nobody else in there,” said Bill Neadles, who led his team through the rescue effort in the former mining town, now a retirement community of about 11,000 people, about 335 miles northwest of Toronto.
Police said there are 12 names on a list of people who are unaccounted for in the community, but Neadles said dogs trained to detect both the living and the dead had found no scent of bodies in the wreckage other than the two already located.
Emergency crews will comb through the remaining piles of rubble exposed by heavy equipment, but the search is expected to conclude within hours, Neadles said.
Twenty-two people were injured but survived after the roof of the Algo Centre Mall gave way. Signs of life, including tapping and breathing sounds, were detected as late as Monday morning, but hope faded as the rescue dragged on.
“Like all Ontarians, I was deeply saddened to learn that emergency workers have recovered bodies from the mall collapse in Elliot Lake,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a statement.
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris Lewis said an investigation would be launched into the cause of the collapse, which sent at least one parked vehicle as well as concrete and metal raining into the mall below, opening a gaping hole in the roof.
According to media reports, the mall has had a history of roof problems, including leaking ceilings and rusted beams.
“Without a doubt there is going to be a full investigation,” Lewis told reporters. “Engineers and many experts are going to look at this for a long time to try to sort out what happened with the ultimate goal of preventing it from ever happening again somewhere else.”
Authorities had halted the rescue effort on Monday, saying that the site was too unstable for it to continue, infuriating Elliot Lake residents. McGuinty, premier of Canada’s most populous province, subsequently intervened to urge rescue workers to resume the search with the help of more equipment.
McGuinty said Ontario’s rescue procedures would be reviewed.
“In the coming days, we will take the time to review the events as they unfolded to ensure we learn any lessons to be had. All Ontarians are committed to having a world class emergency response program in place at all times,” he said.
Lewis defended Monday’s decision to halt the search, saying emergency crews had done their best under difficult circumstances.
“Ultimately they were doing their best in a quick way to try to find who they could find living. When they realized they couldn‘t, that’s when they said, ‘well, what else can we do?'” Lewis said. “They had to back off and get other equipment in here, which took time.”
Reporting By Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway