At least 37 feared dead in Philippine mall blaze
Davao: At least 37 people, including call centre staff from an American firm, are believed to have perished in a fire that tore through a shopping mall in the southern Philippine city of Davao, local authorities said on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a Davao native, visited distraught relatives outside the burning building overnight but told them there was "zero" chance their loved ones had survived, witnesses said.
Firemen found one body as the blaze was finally extinguished on Sunday, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte -- the president's daughter -- told reporters.
Firemen have concluded that all those trapped in the building are dead, she said, adding: "They assessed that no one would survive in that heat and with that thick, black smoke."
The deadly fire adds fresh misery for the mainly Catholic Philippines at Christmas as the death toll from a tropical storm that hit the south of the country Friday crossed 200 and with tens of thousands displaced by severe flooding and landslides.
The blaze started at the four-storey NCCC Mall Saturday morning, sending thick plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky over Davao.
With low wages but strong English language skills, the Philippines is a popular destination for international companies to set up customer call centres.
The building's top floor housed a 24-hour call centre for the US-based market research company SSI.
Jimmy Quimsing, a retired seaman, was one of the relatives desperately waiting for news.
His 25-year-old son Jim Benedict worked at the call centre and had not been in contact since the fire broke out.
Quimsing said he spoke to President Duterte and had been told to prepare for the worst.
"He told us ... no one would survive under these circumstances," he said.
Duterte's special assistant Christopher Go confirmed the bulk of the president's comments to media.
Paolo Duterte, the president's son and the vice mayor of Davao, also wrote on Facebook that fire officials had told him there was "zero" chance of anyone trapped surviving the blaze.
In a statement on its local Facebook page, SSI said it would set up a "command centre" for the relatives of those missing.
"Please continue to pray for everyone's safety," the firm added.
Davao fire marshal Honeyfritz Alagano said the blaze may have started by a spark on the third floor of the mall, which had a furniture section.