Thirty-seven people were feared dead in the Philippines when a fire engulfed a four-storey shopping mall in President Rodrigo Duterte’s home city of Davao on Saturday morning.
Although the cause of the fire is not known, a spark on the third floor housing a furniture mart seems to have been the cause.
With no ventilation, most of the victims, including employees of a call centre on the fourth floor, died of severe burns or asphyxiation. Firefighters were driven back by thick, black smoke and raging fire as they tried to enter the NCCC Mall.
Duterte met distraught relatives of those trapped inside the building and said there was zero chance of finding them live, witnesses told AFP.
Jimmy Quimsing, a retired seaman whose son Jim Benedict worked at the call centre, was trying in vain to contact him after the fire broke out. Duterte told him no one would survive under the circumstances.
Firemen found one body as the blaze was brought under control on Sunday, Davao Mayor and Duerte’s daughter Sara said adding that all those trapped in the building are presumed to be dead.
Davao fire marshal Honeyfritz Alagano said the mall is an enclosed space with no ventilation.
Fire accidents are common in Philippines where many buildings do not follow safety standards and officials concerned do not periodically inspect them to check whether safety norms are followed.
Seventy-two people were killed in 2015 when a fire hit a footwear factory in Manila. Survivors blamed barred windows and sweatshop conditions for people getting trapped inside the factory.
In 1996, as many as 162 people were killed in a blaze that gutted a Manila disco.
Davo, a city of 1.5 million people, is the biggest in southern Philippines.
The pre-Christmas fire comes after tropical storms hit the southern region of Mindanao, including Davao, leaving over 200 dead and several missing.