The Ministry of Labour will have to assess the damage caused by a massive roof collapse in northern Ontario before any rescue efforts can get underway.
Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton told CTV News Channel that he could not confirm how many people were injured after a large portion of the roof at Algo Centre Mall collapsed shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday.
"We'll be meeting with the Ministry of Labour to conduct a site assessment before moving ahead with any debris removal or possible rescues at this point," Hamilton said.
"We can't confirm at this point because we're unable to get into the site to determine whether or not there are any people in the site itself."
The mayor said emergency crews were waiting for a 10-member urban extraction team from southern Ontario to arrive at the scene before re-entering the mall. The team was to arrive by 9:30 p.m. local time.
Asked about whether he was aware of safety concerns about the mall's infrastructure prior to the roof collapse, Hamilton said that will be discussed by city staff after the damage is assessed.
Elliot Lake OPP asked anyone who thought their family or friends might be missing to report to an information centre that had been set up at the mall.
"We have OPP officers there along with vicars and critical incident stress people that are there to assist them. And we want to know if there is anyone missing," said OPP Const. Marilyn Cameron.
A portion of the roof serves as a parking area for customers. Photos from the scene show crumbled heaps of concrete and metal covering the mall's floor.
The cave-in caused a gas leak and prompted emergency crews to shut off the centre's power, evacuate the mall and close surrounding roads.
A reporter with the Elliot Lake Standard told News Channel that the mall was plagued with a leaky roof for years.
"A year or two ago they did quite a bit of renovations and most of the leaks were plugged," Kevin McSheffrey told News Channel in a telephone interview. "But walking around some of the stores on a rainy day you could still see some buckets on the floors to catch the runoff."
McSheffrey was at the mall at the time of the collapse and said shoppers were helping individuals who had suffered minor injuries out of the mall.
"They had cuts bruises, these kinds of things," he said.
Local resident Jean-Marc Hayward said he was in the mall's food court when he saw a slab of concrete fall from above.
"Some people got hit by debris. One older gentleman was hit in the face, I could see he was bleeding," Hayward told News Channel.
"A lot of people were scared and I imagine there are still some looking for loved ones," said Hayward, adding that the mall's lottery booth was completely crushed by the falling concrete.
Just before 4 p.m. Hamilton declared a state of local emergency.
Elliot Lake is a small city of 11,300 in Algoma District, located about two hours west of Sudbury.