MULTIPLE concerns have been raised by unit owners of the condominium building next to the one in Grand Residences that was hit by fire on April 14, 2023, and among these was the fire alarm sounding only 40 minutes to one hour after the fire had started and their now being made to return to a fire-damaged building.
According to unit owners of the building that did not appear to have been hit by the fire, the sixth and seventh floors of their building, among other floors, in fact, sustained damage from the smoke.
In an interview with SunStar Cebu Friday, April 21, 2023, a unit owner who requested anonymity said she learned of the ongoing fire next to their building only after a friend called her on the phone, because the fire alarm had not yet gone off.
The fire that hit one of the towers at Grand Residences in Barangay Kasambagan started at 2:40 p.m. and raged for nine hours, eventually causing an estimated nearly P4 billion in damage.
While the fire was going on, another unit owner, who also asked not to be named, said they did not receive any notice or information about it. All four unit owners interviewed by SunStar said they did not receive any information to vacate or evacuate.
“Mo-evacuate mi? Murag wala man mi gipa-evacuate. Wala man ni contact namo na personnel, or anything na ipa-evacuate na mi. Sariling sikap nag evacuate na lang mi through the stairs,” the unit owner said.
(Should we evacuate? We were not told to evacuate. No personnel contacted us about an evacuation. It was on our own initiative that we evacuated through the stairs.)
According to the unit owners, all of whom requested anonymity, the fire alarms in their building go off every now and then even when there is no fire. The explanation given to them was that “children might be playing around” and turning the alarm on manually, but a tenant said that even at 2 in the morning, the alarms still go off.
“They had to manually prompt people, like actually knocking on their doors, kay di na man motuo sa fire alarm (because no one would believe the fire alarm anymore),” a third unit owner said about what took place when the fire actually broke out last April 14 in their development.
The unit owners also said that for the entirety of their stay at their units, there had been no fire drills. One of them has lived in the unit since October of last year, while another moved in in 2021.
SunStar Cebu reached out to the interim property manager Marvin Deocares, but he declined to comment on the residents’ complaints.
They added that in the process of evacuating the building, they were not guided by anyone to stay at a certain area, and no headcount happened for the unit owners until around 6 p.m. when they started raising their complaints.
“Many unit owners were asking na kami diay, asa man mi ninyo ibutang? What’s the plan? It was not until like 6 p.m. It was only then that they started to ask for our unit numbers, then another round of listing around 7:30 p.m. And it was only around 10 p.m. that they gave us accommodations,” one of the four unit owners said.
Unit owners were staying at different hotels at the expense of Grand Residences Condominium Corp. since the fire broke out. But according to them, their stay was “anxiety-inducing” since they had to wait every day to know if they would have to transfer or they could stay.
According to the unit owners, they were housed in hotels but not given information on how long they would stay at their hotels.
One of the unit owners said she even received her notice around 1 p.m. already that she would already be checked out from where they were staying. One of the unit owners was made to transfer from one hotel to another the following day.
According to them, there was no “point person” to ask about updates on their stay, and most of them were “left in the dark.”
“We were on a point of anxiety because we didn’t know if we were staying in that hotel or if i-extend ba ang among stay. Maghatag sila (They would give) confirmation mga two minutes before 1 p.m.,” which is already close to the usual checkout time, a unit owner said.
The unit owners said the situation had affected them and their work, since they could not fully attend to their responsibilities as they had to worry about whether or not they could still stay in their accommodations.
Return to the units
All the unit owners were checked out of their respective hotels on Thursday, April 20. After appeals to retract the decision, the management was firm that the units were already safe for occupancy.
In a meeting with the unit owners on April 20, the management said their position remained the same.
“Our position is that the building is safe to be occupied. It’s up to the unit owners to take advantage of that,” a representative from the management said, according to one of the unit owners who spoke to SunStar Cebu.
Unit owners were looking for a clearance on structural integrity and clearances from the fire department and building official that the building is fully safe for occupancy to allay their fears over its safety. However, they were not presented with the documents they were requesting.
Instead, the management presented the unit owners a property recovery clearing permit from the Bureau of Fire Protection 7 that stated “this PRCP is limited only for the specific purpose of Property recovery and Retrieval of Salvageable Items of the Property Owner; Removal of Fire Debris; Clearing of Unsafe Areas; Reconstruction; Repair and Complete Structural Demolition (if needed) of the damaged structure. It is not intended for any other purpose or deed.”
According to the residents, the sixth and seventh parking floors were affected by the smoke from the fire, while the eighth, 36th and 37th floors also could not yet be re-occupied after the incident.
The unit owners said the management initially made them sign a request for water and electricity form; however, they refused to sign the document, saying that they did not have to sign anything for their electricity to be turned on in their units.
Some unit owners have gone back to their units, but others have opted to rent or stay at other accommodations for safety reasons.
April 22, 2023
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