Relative of Manitowaning family missing in Elliot Lake tragedy

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

ELLIOT LAKE—A second casualty was confirmed on Wednesday in the Elliot Lake tragedy after a portion of the roof of the Algo Centre Mall collapsed on Saturday afternoon.

Premier Dalton McGuinty had announced on Tuesday morning that crews would be dismantling the mall from the outside in as they attempted to rescue people trapped in the rubble. Unfortunately, the disaster has also hit a family in Manitowaning.

After the rescue operation had been called off earlier in the day, on Monday evening, Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, had issued a statement. “Two days ago, a tragic accident in my community united us in shock and in grief. Since then our community has been united in efforts to save every life we can. Earlier today, my community learned that rescue efforts were being abandoned and we are, once again, united in shock, in grief and in outrage.”

“I cannot believe that a mere 48-hours after these tragic events, there is nothing further to do,” continued Mr. Mantha. “I don’t accept it. The people of Elliot Lake don’t accept it and I don’t believe Canadians will accept it. We cannot leave people behind while there is hope. The premier must take all steps needed to continue the effort and we have contacted the prime minister’s office to ensure that federal resources are deployed as well. This is not the time to give up. This is the time to re-double our efforts.”

On Monday evening, hundreds of people gathered outside Elliot Lake City Hall and down Ontario Avenue in Elliot Lake to protest the decision to go from a rescue mission to a recovery mission at Algo Centre Mall. The decision had been made earlier on Monday afternoon that the building was too unstable and unsafe to send rescue workers in. That meant that crews would be sent in to start demolishing the portion of the building affected by the roof collapse.

On Monday evening, Mr. Mantha came out and calmed local residents with news that crews would be back to the table to discuss what could be done at the scene to once again attempt a rescue. He pointed out Premier McGuinty had urged officials to continue the rescue mission.

For Mary Ellen Roffel, the sister of Joyce Sprack of Manitowaning, the disaster has certainly been felt close to home. Ms. Roffel, who is originally from Manitoulin and now lives in Sudbury, when contacted by the Recorder on Tuesday said, “my son Darin Moggy lives in Elliot Lake and his wife’s (Joanna Dumas-Moggy) aunt is 73 and still missing.”

“From the reports we have been given, there were two cars with occupants in it when the roof caved in,” said Ms. Roffel. “My family is very upset and I’m concerned about everyone and everything that is happening up there.”

Mr. Mantha had shared an office with Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes in the Algo-Centre Mall. “I have been here since 11 pm Sunday night, I got here as soon as I could,” Ms. Hughes told the Recorder on Tuesday morning. “It’s very moving and troublesome. There is a lot of people who are affected and people are just lining the streets to hear any news. Mike (Mantha) is contacting Premier McGuinty and (NDP leader) Andrew Horwath, and I have through Thomas Mulcair (NDP federal leader) contacted Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking for support and assistance.”

“We’ve been meeting with the (Elliot Lake) Chamber of Commerce who took the lead and we will be meeting today with business owners and again in the afternoon with the owners and employees to answer questions on services they will need answered,” continued Ms. Hughes. “There were a lot of services located out of the mall and, for instance, services such as Ontario Works and Social Services will be provided out of the local high school. Everyone is now waiting for more people and equipment to come in to take down the building, although there are some many obstruction in the way to getting to the people inside.”

Ms. Hughes added, “this is obviously a very emotional time for everybody, this is a community I lived in for 25 years, and have been connected to over 30 years, and this mall was the common meeting place for people, a place where they would shop, grab a coffee and share their stories. To see the economic and human impact of this on the community, we need to support each other. The damage is extensive and many people in the area have been touched by this. Our immediate concern is the well-being of the residents of Elliot Lake.”

“This is such an emotional time for everyone, I can understand why so many questions are being raised,” concluded Ms. Hughes. “I urge people to remain patient through this difficult time. While our office there has been closed, our phone lines remain open. We will do all we can to support the families and businesses in our community as we work through this tragedy.”