ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. – The fiance of a woman killed in the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall testified Thursday he will never understand why rescuers refused community help in searching the rubble for any survivors.
Gary Gendron told the inquiry into last summer’s deadly tragedy there was plenty of expertise and equipment in the area.
“There’s people here in Elliot Lake that did mining all their life,” Gendron said.
“Why would you not let them in and help?”
Gendron was engaged to Lucie Aylwin, 37, whose badly mangled body was recovered from the rubble four days after part of the mall’s rooftop parking garage crashed down.
Relatives of the other victim, Doloris Perizzolo, 74, along with many in the community believe she was alive for days and could possibly have been saved.
However, rescuers who arrived from Toronto worried the building was too unstable.
“Anybody that did mining, give them five, 10 minutes in the building like that and they would assess it and tell you what exactly equipment they need,” Gendron said.
“They wouldn’t let them in. Why? It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Aylwin, a longtime employment counsellor who worked in the mall’s lottery kiosk for one day a month, was a big-hearted and caring person who loved to socialize, the inquiry heard.
Gendron said he was devastated when the rescue effort was called off two days after the collapse.
“We’re stopping the search and we’re leaving this in the hands of the mall owner,” he said he was told.
“We’re just going to demolish the whole mall and if we find people, we find people.”
He said he sought out the media to try to get the message out that something needed to be done.
The futile search did continue, apparently after intervention from former premier Dalton McGuinty, who is due to testify in October.
Like other relatives of the victims, Gendron said he was given little official information or support in the days after the tragedy struck.
Dan Hefkey, Ontario’s commissioner of community safety, followed Gendron on the stand to provide an overview of emergency response in the province.
He described the legislative and regulatory framework, as well as how emergency response is organized.
A provincial police photographer is due to testify Friday.
After final submissions next week for Part 1 of the inquiry — the events leading to the mall’s collapse — first responders will testify about the aftermath.