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Emergency Response Eyed in Canadian Mall Collapse Inquiry

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - The second phase of the inquiry into last summer's deadly collapse of the mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., begins today.

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This part will deal with the emergency response to the tragedy — a timely topic given the Alberta floods and Quebec rail disaster.

Many residents were angry when the search for survivors was called off hours after signs of life were apparently detected in the rubble.

It took four days before the bodies of the two victims — Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo — were recovered.

Their relatives, along with eye witnesses to the collapse, are expected on the stand over the next two days.

The first part of the inquiry — which looked into what led to the collapse — ended July 30, with the last of about 70 witnesses testifying.

Among the witnesses expected to testify in the coming weeks are local and provincial emergency responders as well as government officials.

Commission lawyer Mark Wallace said the question of whether the rescue effort was called off prematurely is one area that will receive close scrutiny.

"I'm not going to promise that we're going to answer that definitively, but we're certainly going to explore it thoroughly," Wallace said.

Phase 2 is expected to open Wednesday with the playing of video of the collapse and a 911 call reporting the unfolding tragedy. After that, eye witnesses and relatives of the victims will testify.

Aylwin's fiance, Gary Gendron, who will give his testimony this week, said he believes rescuers were too slow to call in heavy equipment.

"If they got that right from the beginning, Lucie would be here today," Gendron said.

Toronto police Staff Insp. Bill Neadles, who headed the heavy urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Team that was overseeing rescue, will be one of about 45 witnesses to testify.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty, who called the public inquiry under Commissioner Paul Belanger, is expected to take the stand as the last Part 2 witness, likely in early October.

"We're hoping to find out about the organization and the efforts by all parties involved in responding to the collapse," Wallace said.

"We'll be examining the roles and contributions that everyone made."

Part 1 of the inquiry, which began hearing evidence in March, has heard how the mall, badly designed and built, leaked from the start. Successive owners did little to address the problem substantively.

Ultimately, rust due to decades of salt and water penetration weakened a weld, leading a steel support to give way June 23, 2012.

The commission is hoping to issue its final report and recommendations around February of next year.



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