Emergency services officials in Canada described the confirmation of just two fatalities in the collapse of a shopping-mall roof as a “miracle” after as many as 12 were thought missing and feared dead in the horrifying incident.
News reports on Wednesday said two bodies were recovered from the debris of the collapsed portion of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario.
A spokesman for the rescue team at the site said it appeared certain that “there is nobody else in there” after two bodies were recovered on Wednesday.
“My thoughts are based on the intelligence we have,” Bill Neadles, spokesman for the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star.
“There are only two victims in that complex. There is nobody else in there,” Neadles said. “It is a miracle,” he added, in light of reports that 26 people were believed to have been present in the mall’s food court when concrete, steel and other building debris came crashing down from the parking structure above the mall area.
Authorities had originally said up to 12 people were unaccounted for, but those reports changed as missing-person information was learned and verification continued.
No information was available late Wednesday on the identities of the dead. Authorities said canine units and rescue workers had swept the building in the search for victims.
More on the Star’s coverage of the story, including a photo gallery of the scene of the collapse, can be read at Elliot Lake mall roof collapse.
Speculation on Possible Cause
As fears of greater loss of life and injuries subsided, attention turned to what may have caused the tragic collapse of the structure.
One news report, also in the Star, suggested that inadequate waterproofing of the concrete parking structure above the mall could have been a factor.
The Star report quoted an expert, Professor Samir Chidiac of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who said the lack of a waterproofing membrane or an inadequate or poorly maintained membrane could allow saltwater seepage into the structural support system below, causing corrosion; see Concrete expert says salt seepage could have weakened structure.
The report said a contractor told the Star that he had been called in to fix a leaky roof at the mall in 2008, but was called off the job due to concerns about the condition of some of the structure’s beams.
The Star story said subsequent repairs included caulking of joints of concrete sections of the parking-lot deck, but Chidiac said that would not provide the needed waterproofing protection.
Another news report, in the Globe and Mail, said mall owner Eastwood Mall Inc., had been the target of lawsuits filed by owners of retail businesses complaining about the leaking roof above their establishments.
The owner of one business, in the mall’s food court, alleged that leaks above a food counter twice caused the ceiling to fall and forced the business to shut down; see Elliot Lake mall owner sued for leaky roof. The business owner won an $11,000 court judgment in the case, according to the Globe and Mail story.
Another company said it was hired to repair and waterproof the roof, but was paid only a small portion of the more than $800,000 worth of work done. And an engineering consulting firm also filed actions saying it was not paid for a feasibility study on a retrofitting program for the mall, the Globe and Mail story said.
A comprehensive story in the National Post reported that a lawyer for Eastwood Malls said the Algo Centre Mall dealt with “constant repairs” to the rooftop parking lot and had been planning to move the lot.
The lawyer, however, said the structure had been found to be sound in assessments conducted as recently as this year.
“There was leaking, it is not a question of having the roof fail, as it did,” the lawyer said in the National Post story; see Elliot Lake mall dealt with ‘endless’ roof repairs.
The story also said mall customers were familiar with the building’s leaking roof, and talked of seeing buckets being used to catch dripping water and rusted metal beams.
The owner of one restaurant said a chunk of concrete fell off the ceiling and crashed onto the floor several months ago.
Questions regarding warning signs of problems with the building and the mall owners’ response to those issues are the subject of this video report, Many complaints Ellliot Lake mall’s roof.