ELLIOT LAKE, Ontario — Canada’s prime minister has offered to send in the military to help with the rescue effort at a partially collapsed mall in Ontario where at least one person has died and another may still be alive beneath the rubble, officials said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall said in an e-mail that the federal government is still trying to determine how best to help.
“We’ve offered all of our assets,” MacDougall said. “We’ve apprised the provincial government of federal and military capabilities and are waiting to hear what would be useful.”
MacDougall said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called Harper Monday night to inquire about bringing in the military to help.
The offer comes as officials plan to use heavy equipment to dismantle the building from the outside in order to resume rescue efforts stalled over fears that the unstable structure could further collapse leaving rescuers trapped inside what remains of the mall.
Rescuers detected breathing inside the rubble early Monday, but authorities enraged local residents when they called off the work later that day. One death has been confirmed after part of the mall’s roof collapsed Saturday afternoon, and another person is known to be still inside.
Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton said Tuesday morning emergency crews are back onsite and teams are continuing to work with the engineers on a plan but noted that the building is not secure enough to send rescue teams back in at this point.
“”It’s too dangerous for people to go into that site until it’s secure,” Hamilton told The AP in a telephone interview. “We’re holding out hope. We’re going to do everything we can until such time as we can get in there.”.
McGuinty said he wanted to explore the slim odds of a rescue. He said they owe it to the families waiting for word of their loved ones to leave no stone unturned.
“There is another option and that option involves beginning to dismantle the building from the outside,” McGuinty said, adding this was a very risky operation.
“It’s not unlike a house of cards. It might be if you pull away from this wall in an effort to get access to someone who is trapped in there it may cause other things to move and other things to tumble and to crumble,” he said.
A larger crane and robotics normally used in mining disasters will be employed, McGuinty said.
Dozens of residents of the former mining hub had protested in front of city hall after the decision to halt rescue efforts, saying abandoning trapped comrades would be unthinkable in miners’ culture. Rescue missions never end, save our families, save our friends,” they chanted, and some suggested that volunteer mine workers should take up the rescue effort themselves.
Rhonda Bear, the mall’s manager, had said the mall’s owners were pleading with officials to continue the search and had lawyers who would try for a court injunction against the decision to stop the rescue.
Bill Needles, a spokesman from the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team, earlier Monday confirmed one person had died and said crews had used a remote device called the life detector to determine a person was breathing as of 4 a.m. Monday. He said the dead person is the same one whose hand and foot were visible in images captured by a remote camera on Sunday.