NCCC Mall retrieval operation halted

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Dec) – The retrieval operation for one missing body out of the 38 trapped workers – 37 call centers agents and one NCCC Mall personnel – inside the gutted four-story NCCC Mall Davao was suspended on Thursday due to the instability of the structure, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Davao fire marshal Honey Fritz Alagano said.

During the AFP-PNP press briefing at the Royal Mandaya Hotel Davao Thursday, Alagano said fire inspectors are currently assessing if it is safe for retrieval rescue operation workers to enter the building after the more than 24-hour fire gutted the 14-year-old building.

Once resumed, she said the retrieval operation would be focused on the location of the Survey Sampling International (SSI), a business process outsourcing (BPO) company, which occupied the entire 4,000-square meter space on the fourth level.

Authorities recovered 36 bodies of the trapped fire victims at the BPO firm’s lobby on the fourth floor last Monday, only a day after remains of one call center agent were found inside the comfort room.

Of the 37 recovered bodies, 36 had been identified, including that of Melvin Gaa, a key custodian of the NCCC Mall who was also a member of the NCCC Emergency Action Team (NEAT), and one still unidentified.

The remains of the still unidentified body belong to either Mikko Demafeliz or Alexandra Moreno, both SSI call center agents.

Mayor Sara Duterte told reporters Monday that a DNA test, which will take one month, would be conducted on one the unrecognizable body while authorities will still have to retrieve one body inside the mall.

Alagano said an interagency task force – led by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), with BFP, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 11 – may arrive in the city on Thursday and start the investigation.

Duterte said a third party private investigator will be commissioned by the insurance company while the City Government will shoulder the professional fees of another third party investigator to look into the fire.

Alagano said they received the fire call on Saturday at 10:05 a.m. and was able to dispatch fire trucks from the SIR in Matina and Talomo areas five minutes after.

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

Alagano added that the NCCC Mall management and the SSI are both compliant and passed the annual fire safety inspection of the BFP 11 that issued fire safety inspection certificates last April 2017 and September 2017, respectively.

She claimed the fire safety features of the mall – fire alarm system, automatic fire sprinklers, and smoke detectors – are working. The SSI has two fire exits on the right and left wing, she said.

The SSI facility was registered with Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA). (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)