Body of one more Davao mall fire victim remains missing

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 December) – Retrieval operations continued on Wednesday for one missing body inside the four-storey NCCC Mall Davao, bringing the reported casualties from 37 to 38, while a DNA test will be conducted on one of the recovered bodies to determine the identity, City Mayor Sara Duterte said.

In a press briefing in her office Wednesday, Duterte added 36 of the 37 bodies recovered had been identified by the Scene of the Crime Operation – 35 call center agents of Sampling Survey International and a certain Melvin Gaa, a key custodian of the mall who was also a member of the NCCC Emergency Action Team.

She said Gaa’s body was among those recovered on Monday morning at the lobby of the 4,000-square meter call center facility on the fourth floor.

Emergency personnel respond to a fire that broke out on the 3rd floor of the NCCC Mall in Ma-a, Davao City on 23 December 2017. . MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

She said it will take at least a month to get the result of the DNA test, which will reveal if the unidentified body belonged to Mikko Demafeliz or Alexandra Moreno, both SSI call center agents.

Duterte said the family of Demafeliz has already submitted DNA samples while representatives from the City Social Welfare and Development Office are coordinating with the Moreno family.

She said an interagency task force comprised of the Bureau of Fire Protection, Department of Interior and Local Government, and National Bureau of Investigation will investigate the fire incident while an insurance firm will commission a third party investigator to know what caused it.

She added the city promised the families it will shoulder the expenses of hiring a separate third investigator.

She said the investigation will take a few more days considering the extent of damage.

The fire reportedly started at the furniture section on the third floor at around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, was declared under control at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, and put out at 5:15 p.m. of the same day.

Duterte did not comment on allegations that the mall’s sprinklers and early warning device did not work pending results of the investigation.

She said the personal accounts of the fire survivors that were gathered by the BDF-11 will supplement the investigation of the inter-agency task force.

The mayor said she had met with mall officials from NCCC Mall and SSI on Tuesday where they discussed the assistance that will be extended to the families.

She said the city government will shoulder the funeral and burial expenses for the victims, SSI will help match families for livelihood packages with the Department of Labor and Employment, and NCCC Mall will include the children of those who died in its scholarship program.

She said all three parties will extend cash assistance to the families but she did not divulge the amount for the families’ security.

She said the NCCC Mall has vowed to take care of the other mall workers displaced by the fire.

Duterte said she asked the BFP-11 to list down its observations and recommendations based on their experience in battling the massive fire so that the city government can assist them in addressing concerns of equipment upgrade.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, NCCC Mall spokesperson Thea Padua said that Gaa, the only mall employee who died in the fire, tried to save the SSI employees.

Padua said Gaa was identified by his wife Rosela last night as one of 36 persons recovered by the firefighters on Monday night near the lobby of the SSI offices in the mall’s fourth floor.

She said Gaa was seen having already exited the building via the ground floor but went back inside apparently to assist more employees escape the burning structure.

Gaa was a member of the emergency action team of the mall who helped bring down the 83 surviving SSI employees and an estimated 700 mall personnel and visitors.

“The NCCC Mall management expressed its deep sympathy and gratitude to the family of Melvin, who they said was a hero who had saved many victims and tried to rescue the remaining SSI employees,” the release added.

The SOCO identified the recovered bodies as those of Jeffrey Sismar, Mary Louielyn Bongcayao, Kurtchin Angela Bangoy, Joy Pabelonia, Christen Garzon, Jim Benedict, Jonas Basalan, Jessica Samontina, Venus Joy Quimpo, Jimboy Limosnero, Christine Joy Ferraren, Rosyl Montanez, Missry Rose Artiaga, Rhenzi Nova Muyco, Ivan Nebelle Roble, Elyn Joy Yorsua, Shiela Mae Bacaling,

Roderick Antipuesto, Nancy Loyd Abad, Jessica Solis, Charlyn Liwaya, Melvin Gaa, Regine Generales, Gantioco Celestial, Apple Jane Celades, Ian Kiem Adlawan, Listen Jade Entera, Analiza Piñajiro, Christine Alviola, Roderick Constantinopla, Dresiree Gayle Zacarias, Johani Matundo, Iana Apalacio, Maryjoy Daloro, Randy Balcao, and Janine Joy Obo. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)