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The Philippines

Blaze kills 37 US employees at Philippines shopping centre

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 7:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 4:39am

A blaze that swept through a shopping centre in the Philippine city of Davao on Saturday killed 37 employees of a US-based company, firefighters have confirmed.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said firefighters initially found one body at the NCCC Mall on Sunday, but that extreme heat and thick smoke prevented them from retrieving the bodies of the other 36 employees until Monday.

Senior Superintendent Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu, regional director of the Bureau of Fire Protection, relayed the news to the employees’ relatives, who broke into tears. They were told the bodies would be identified by authorities then turned over to their families.

All the dead worked at a call centre on the top floor of the four-floor mall run by US-based Research Now SSI, which employs about 500 people. Its chief executive officer, Gary Laben, said the company would help with funeral arrangements and create a fund for contributions for the victims’ families.

“This terrible tragedy has left us with heavy hearts,” Laben said.

Duterte-Carpio and Tiu spoke at a Mass outside the burned mall, where the fire broke out on Saturday morning on the third floor, where clothes, electrical goods and furniture are sold. The fire started after a storm hit Davao and flooded parts of the city.

Except for a supermarket on the ground floor and the call centre on the top floor, the shopping areas were still closed when the fire started, preventing a bigger tragedy amid the peak Christmas shopping season.

President Rodrigo Duterte went to the scene of the fire and met relatives of the trapped office employees late Saturday. He served as Davao mayor for many years before being elected president last year.