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Workers search for victims of Canada roof collapse

ELLIOT LAKE, Ontario-- Workers labored into the night to enable a search for victims after at least one person was feared dead and another trapped inside the rubble when a roof collapsed at a mall in northern Ontario, authorities said.

Workers were unable to reach anyone Sunday because the structure was too unstable. They said it would take until early Monday morning before the area was deemed safe enough for rescue teams to go back in. Images taken with a camera show a hand and foot in the dusty debris, said Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Percy Jollymore.

Fire officials heard tapping Sunday morning in another part of the rubble, but nothing had been heard for hours. They said they also tried to reach that person by drilling through a wall, but found the structure too unsafe to risk entering far enough inside.

"Some of our search members this morning heard a couple of taps," said Bill Needles, a spokesman from the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team which travelled from Toronto. "They called for a quick silence on the site and there was a couple more taps. That was an indication to us that we were dealing with a rescue."

He said the operation was still a rescue mission and they were still hoping to find people alive.

Police compiled a list of nine people missing since the collapse Saturday, but the names were being crossed off as members of the community accounted for their loved ones.

At least 22 people suffered minor injuries in the roof collapse Saturday afternoon at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake.

A special emergency crew was working to stabilize the scene, but authorities said the process could take another 12 hours.

A portion of the roof that serves as a parking area crumbled down two floors into an area near the food court, leaving behind a gaping hole which was 12 meters (39 feet) by 24 meters (79 feet). It also downed hydro lines and triggered a gas leak.

Emergency officials quickly cleared out the mall and closed surrounding roads. Mayor Rick Hamilton declared a state of emergency.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was in touch with Elliot Lake's mayor and thanked emergency crews in the city for their efforts.

"As we anxiously wait to learn more about anyone thought to be missing in Elliot Lake, our thoughts and prayers are with their families, and also with those who have been injured and indeed with the entire community," McGuinty said in a statement.

Hope mingled with frustration in the close-knit community as residents waited for news.

"There's a fair amount missing," said Heather Richer, who owns a restaurant in the mall and was at work when the collapse took place. "I'm hoping everyone's found, but I'm giving up hope on whether they're going to find them alive."

Richer, who was particularly concerned about an acquaintance who was unaccounted for, described Saturday's thunderous collapse as a nightmare.

"It was almost like a little mini earthquake, like a big bang, and then gone," she said. "There was nothing there. Everything started to cave in, water was pouring out of the pipes."

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