Remains of 1 of 37 workers trapped in mall fire recovered

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 Dec) — Mayor Sara Duterte said the remains of one victim out of the 37 trapped workers were recovered at around 8 a.m. Sunday, nearly 24 hours after a massive fire that engulfed the four-storey NCCC Mall of Davao along MacArthur Highway was put “under control.”

Duterte said rescuers recovered the remains inside the comfort room on the fourth floor where most of the trapped workers reportedly huddled shortly after the fire broke out at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio late Saturday night, Deember 23, 2017 on the fire that struck NCCC Mall Davao at around 9:30 a.m. Saturday and was still raging more than 12 hours later. The fire has been put under control but “fire out” has not been declared as of 9:30 a.m. Sunday. JOEY DALUMPINES / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

She said the list of the City Social Services and Development Office (CSSDO) showed 36 of the trapped victims were from SSI, an offshore business process outsourcing firm, and another victim with a foreign-sounding name who was on the list of missing after his friend reported to authorities that he was among those trapped.

She added the SSI’s list of trapped workers did not include that of the “foreigner” but they are still verifying with the company.

As of 12 noon, the mayor said  search and retrieval operations for the remains of the victims were still ongoing and that she ordered the rescuers not to stop until they find all the remains of the 37.

“There are 37 missing, you must find 37 inside the mall. Until today, no one said they have seen their loved ones. Do not stop until you find 37,” Duterte said.

Families of the victims were transferred to a holding room provided by the City Government on the 3rd floor of the JICA building at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) from Aposento Restaurant, located just a few meters away from the NCCC Mall where they stayed the night until President Rodrigo Duterte told worried families that there was “zero chance” of survival at past 3 a.m. Sunday.

Mayor Duterte added the “zero chance” of survival was based on the assessment of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) 11 whose personnel found difficulty penetrating the mall due to black smoke and intense heat.

She quoted fire officials as saying no one would survive due to intense heat and black smoke.

“I talked with the BFP earlier today and they said even they themselves would die if they go inside the mall, how much more those trapped?” she said.

She did not give further details pending results of the BFP investigation on what caused the fire and how exactly call center agents were trapped.

She said investigators are currently inspecting areas that are now accessible.

Fire continues to engulf the NCCC Mall Davao along MacArthur Highway corner Ma-a Road in Davao City evening of December 23, 2017. MIndaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In a statement issued at around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, the NCCC Mall management said it is “deeply affected by the fire that destroyed our Mall and caused lives to be lost.”

“We have been in constant coordination with the BFP ever since the incident broke out. As of this time, the fire fighting and retrieval operations are still ongoing,” it said.

It said details of the fire will be released in a press briefing right after BFP declares ‘fire out’ and releases their official report.

In its statement on Saturday, the NCCC management said the fire started on the third floor.

The SSI call center is on the fourth floor of the four-storey mall that opened in December 2003.  (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)