Philippine blaze: Call-center workers ′trapped′ in inferno | News | DW | 24.12.2017
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Philippine fire tragedy

Philippine blaze: Call-center workers 'trapped' in inferno

A mall blaze in the southern Philippines city of Davao is feared to have killed dozens of employees of an American-linked call-center on its top floor. The fire brings added tragedy to a region hit by a tropical storm.

Dozens of call center workers were feared dead in a major fire in the southern Philippines city of Davao on Sunday.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao for two decades, told relatives of at least 25 missing persons, including market research call-center workers, there was "zero" chance their loved ones had survived.

Davao's current mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio — the president's daughter — said firefighters had recovered one body from the four-story complex which was choked Saturday by dense smoke and extreme heat.

"The fire is under control, but not totally out," said the mayor.

Many of the missing worked for SSI Philippines Inc, a branch of an American-based international market research company that operates in the Philippines' mix of English-language skills and relatively low wages.

No contact since blaze

Retired seaman Jimmy Quimsing said his 25-year-old son Jim Benedict had not made contact since the fire broke out.

Fire marshal Honeyfritz Alagano said a colleague who also had a child working in the center had learned that staff went to collect items from their lockers and found themselves trapped.

Firm calls for prayers

SSI Philippines called for prayers in majority Roman Catholic Davao, a metropolis of 1.5 million — the biggest in the southern Philippines.

The region's SunStar newspaper reported later on Sunday that at least 25 people remained missing after the blaze raged for eight hours. Six other fire victims had been treated in hospital, it added.

It cited a missing worker, who had texted a message to his brother waiting outside, that he was "trapped together with other colleagues, around 10 of them, after they failed to exit together with other fellows" and could no longer "endure the heat of the fire." 

Blaze began in furniture section

The management of the NCCC Mall said the blaze started Saturday morning on the third floor, where clothes, appliances and furniture were sold.

Aside from a supermarket on the ground floor and the call-center, the complex had been closed for Christmas, potentially preventing an even worse tragedy.

Map of the Philippines with Davao located in the south

The fire-gutted NCCC Mall lies in Davao city

The Philippines has a reputation for a dearth of fire safety standards and non-enforcement attributed in part to corruption.

A Manila footwear factory blaze in 2015 killed 72 people. Survivors blamed barred windows and exploitative conditions.

Davao's blaze is an added tragedy for the southern Philippines in a year that also saw the pro-"Islamic State" siege of Marawi city that was crushed by troops in August and typhoon Tembin which swept across Mindanao on Friday.

Typhoon toll rises to 200

Mindanao police said Sunday the storm death toll had risen to 200, with scores still missing. Disaster relief officials said up to 70,000 had been left homeless by flash floods and landslides.

"The [death toll] figure could increase as we continue to receive reports from the field as the weather improves," said Mindanao police spokesman Lemuel Gonda.

On Sunday, the storm was moving west across outlying Philippine islands and the South China Sea towards southern Vietnam.

ipj/aw (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)