Nearly 40 people have been confirmed dead from a fire in a mall in the southern Philippines.
A fire official said Monday that 36 bodies had been recovered from the blaze that gutted the NCCC shopping mall in the city of Davao, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte, on Mindanao Island.
“I personally counted them before I gave the information to our honorable mayor... around 36 in number,” said Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu, the Davao region chief of the Bureau of Fire Protection.
The official, who was speaking to weeping relatives of those missing, said the government had already launched an investigation into the incident, which many said occurred due to poor fire safety standards in the building.
“As the ground commander of this operation my deepest apology for I was not able to save them,” said Kwan Tiu about the fire that started Saturday.
The mayor of Davao, Sara Duterte, who is a daughter of President Duterte, said earlier that 38 people were missing and feared dead in the fire. The SSI, a US-based market research firm whose call center workers had been trapped in the blaze, also announced on its website that 37 of its 500 employees at the top-floor office had been “lost.”
Mall operators denied allegations of locked or non-existent fire exits at the building.
“There is no truth to that allegation. In fact as per accounts of those who got out, they were able [to] get out through the fire exit,” said Thea Padua, the mall's public relations officer.
The Philippines has seen many blazes over the past years, especially in slum areas where almost no safety standards are implemented. Many also blame rampant corruption in government institutions for such loose safety as it was the case in a factory fire that killed 72 people in the capital Manila in 2015.