08/21/2013 10:34 EDT | Updated 10/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Calling off Elliot Lake mall rescue 'was a kick in the gut'

The mall roof collapse inquiry in Elliot Lake has heard more about what was happening behind the scenes when the rescue effort was briefly called off in the days after the disaster.

Elliot Lake firefighter Darren Connors told the inquiry on Wednesday the fire department took the news hard when they were told the building was too unstable and a heavy urban search and rescue team from Toronto was going home.

“Unfortunately I got the gist of it right away, I felt like it was done. It was a kick in the gut,” he said. “I was just kind of standing there in awe, wondering, waiting.”

Connors said the news prompted heated reaction from people holding vigil on the street in front of the mall.

He said word then came that plans had changed. The rescue was back on, and a large crane was coming from Toronto to dismantle the front of the mall.

Once that was completed rescue workers were able to remove the bodies of the victims from the mall, days after the roof collapsed.

'I was getting a response'

Connors told the public inquiry on Tuesday he heard signs of life coming from the rubble in the hours after the roof fell.

He testified he entered the mall after arriving at the scene and was on a pile of rubble — not far from where the body of Lucie Aylwin was found — when he heard what he believed were responses.

The inquiry played the radio call Connors made at the time:

“Most of it is, like, really hard to understand. So I get her to say yes. I try to get her to say it twice, and I am thinking that is what she is trying to do with me."

"Roger that,” Connors was told over the radio.

Connors said he believed he was communicating with someone trapped in the debris in the hours after the roof fell.

“I felt as though I was getting a response in relation to my question,” he recalled. “That it wasn't a noise in response to something else.”

The inquiry has already heard that firefighters found Doloris Perizzolo in the hours after the collapse and she did not have vital signs.

The inquiry has yet to hear from a forensic pathologist, who is expected to help answer the question of whether Aylwin could have been saved had she been reached sooner.

The bodies of both women were removed from the mall days later after part of the unstable structure was demolished.

The public inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in the community since March.

It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof’s collapse on June 23, 2012, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.

The public inquiry is expected to last until late October.

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