06/23/2012 04:59 EDT | Updated 08/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Roof caves in at Elliot Lake mall, prompting evacuation; no word on injuries

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - Emergency crews were scrutinizing mounds of debris for possible victims after part of a roof collapsed at a busy mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake Saturday.

It's still unclear if anyone was seriously injured or killed after concrete and metal came crashing down at the Algo Centre Mall, but one community member said some residents appeared to be unaccounted for after the roof gave way a little before 2:30 p.m.

"Some of these families are concerned that they haven't heard from their loved ones," said NDP MPP Michael Mantha, whose constituency office was located above the mall.

"You see a lot of people holding hands right now, there's a lot of hugging going on. There are going to be many, many prayers that are being held tomorrow morning in many of the churches and tonight."

Mantha said he knew of a few people being injured, but couldn't say how badly they had been hurt.

A local state of emergency was declared soon after a portion of the mall's roof, which serves as a parking area, came thundering down through two floors.

"I heard this big noise. The ground started shaking, so I ran out, my co-workers are freaking out," said Cora Richer, who was working at the Dollarama located in front of the site of the collapse.

"The roof was caved-in, wires everywhere."

The collapse exposed a tangle of twisted metal and concrete supports and triggered a gas leak which prompted emergency officials to cut power to the centre.

Richer said one of her co-workers rushed to help a man who had been hit by falling debris before the group hurried out of the mall through a back entrance.

"We were freaking out," the 20-year-old said. "The rest of it could have collapsed so we went out the back."

Two kiosks selling lottery tickets and cigarettes were located in the area where the roof gave way and were open before the collapse, Richer said, adding that the entire incident has rocked the community.

"I was shaking, I was pretty shocked," she said. "A lot of my co-workers melted down and started crying."

Another mall employee said he saw a few cars fall through the roof when it came down near the centre's escalators.

"You can see the roof with the cars hanging inside," said Joe Drazil, who works at the mall's Zellers.

"Everybody was cleared from the whole mall. After that, there were numerous police and emergency vehicles coming from all over."

Emergency officials quickly evacuated the mall and closed surrounding roads. Authorities remained on scene Saturday night.

Police said they couldn't confirm any serious injuries or missing people but were asking anyone who feared for a loved one to check in at the information centre.

"We have OPP officers there, along with vicars and critical incident stress people who are there to assist them. And we want to know if there is anyone missing," OPP Const. Marilyn Cameron said.

"Right now we can't report on whether we have any injuries or missing people at this point, nothing confirmed."

The cause of the roof collapse is still unclear. Authorities said they are currently focused on rescue efforts and stabilizing the scene.

The mall houses a grocery store, restaurants and a number of retail outlets. A hotel is also attached to the centre, which is the largest mall in Elliot Lake.

The city is located some 160 kilometres west of Sudbury.

— By Diana Mehta in Toronto

(CKNR, The Canadian Press)