DAVAO CITY (Updated) -- “Kuya salamat sa tanan. Dili na nako makaya diri, init na kaayo [Brother, thank you for everything. I could no longer endure the heat of the fire].”
These were the last words that Joniel Adlawan heard from his brother identified as Ian Kim Adlawan, 22, a call center agent of SSI, a Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) company in Davao City.
According to him, he received a text message from his younger brother at around 9:40 a.m. shortly after the fire broke out. He immediately called him up and that’s the time his brother thanked him.
“Pag start sa sunog text siya sa ako: Kuya sunog diri. Dali-dali dayon ko lakaw paghuman nitawag ko ana ko ‘Yan asa naman ka. Then ana siya: ’Ya salamat sa tanan dili na nako makaya diri, init na kaayo (My brother texted just as the fire started out, telling me there's fire. I rushed to NCCC while calling him, asking where he is. That's when he said, 'Thank you for everything. I could no longer endure the heat of the fire),” he said.
Adlawan said that his brother told him they were trapped together with other colleagues, around 10 of them, after they failed to exit together with other fellows.
What bothers him more was nobody could tell them how was the situation of other employees who were still trapped in the 4th floor of the mall where SSI office is located.
What he could least do now was to wait until information will be relayed to them. He is pinning his hope on prayers that his brother is safe.
In a separate interview with Christine, 24, an employee of SSI who was able to evacuate, she said they thought it was but a minor fire incident. But the white smoke that seeped through their exhaust fan soon turned into thick black smoke.
“Nag start palang siya sa exhaust white palang, tapos eventually ning baga dayon ang aso (At first, there was just white smoke coming in from the exhaust fan, and then thick smoke quickly followed),” she said.
Panic and fear could be felt among their fellow workers while they were evacuating from fire incident. She said that they were guided and passed through the lobby.
She was very thankful that they were able to get out although she only had her identification card and clothes on. She was not able to get her personal belongings. She couldn't go home because she did not have any money. She was just there, watching their workplace being eaten up by the huge fire that lasted for eight hours and counting.
“Malayo ang locker kung saan kami nag-evacuate,” she said.
Christine said that she already called her parents in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte, where they reside. She informed them that she is safe. She added that her parents were actually ready to go to Davao City after hearing the news of a fire from her cousin. But borrowing a phone from her co-worker, she was able to assure them of her safety.
She has been working in SSI for one and half years now. She is the eldest and is now worried that she will have no more job to go back to. She rents a room in Bajada, Davao City.
George Moreno, father of Alexandra Moreno who was one of the reported trapped call center agents in SSI, said he heard the news about the fire from his friend in General Santos City and so he and his wife rushed to NCCC.
They’ve been waiting outside for hours, waiting for updates but getting none. Only the sight of the fire getting bigger.
Based on the accounts of the survivors, Alexandra, who is asthmatic, was helping fellow workers get out. She didn't make it out, though.
“I think there’s a lot of people trapped there. She was trying to get all the people out based on her other companions at work. She has asthma and I hope she could recover. Sana the Lord is kind na ma-save sila at wala namang casualty. I hope also the firemen, I know they are doing their best, everyone is doing their best to save lives here,” he said.
At around 12 noon, the cellphone of Alexandra could still ring. But hours later, the reply they'd get was only the recorded voice saying it's out of coverage area.
One of the team leaders of SSI, who refused to give his name, said that he has two agents under him who were trapped. The families of the trapped victims surrounded him immediately when he arrived, hoping for some good news. However, his facial expression is enough to say he doesn't have that to share.
The team leader could not yet provide any vital information about the situation up there.
“Dili ko kaingon ma'am. Kung sa akoang team akong ma account duha but sa other team wa ko kabalo. We have six teams. Hindi ko alam bakit. Hindi lang ako. Nasa taas last contact an hour ago,” the team leader said.
The rescuers meanwhile said that they could hardly penetrate the establishment as the flame had already reached the second floor and debris were falling all over.
The families of those missing employees were restless while walking back and forth, tears streaming down their faces.
Rey Llanes, one of the firefighters of Filipino-Chinese Fire Volunteers in an interview admitted that they were having a hard time suppressing the fire because it started at the 3rd floor of the mall at around 9:30 a.m.
Because it was on the third floor thus burning debris are falling down, making it impossible to enter the mall. The fire grew bigger as it hit the section where clothes and clothing products are stored.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) had also declared a general alarm considering the scope of the fire. This means that all fire stations from different cities are requested to respond.
Another challenge they encountered was the low water supply.
As of 5 p.m., the BFP continue with their operation as the fire has not declared fire out yet.
Fire were fanned anew and caused the floors on the parking lot side of the mall to collapse as of 7 p.m. last night.
Statement of NCCC management
The NCCC management in a statement issued Saturday expressed their apologies at the same time confirmed where the fire really started.
“At around 10 a.m. this morning, a fire broke out at the 3rd floor of NCCC Mall Department Store. Up until now, we are doing all efforts to put out the fire. We are still verifying the extent of the incident although we are closely coordinating with the authorities. Also, the search and rescue ops are on going,” it said.
As of 3 p.m. Saturday, a total of six fire victims have been rushed to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) although the hospital emergency room staff was on alert for more.
An ER staff, who requested not to be named, said they are advised by their head to be on standby as they are expecting more patients who will be rushed at the hospital any minute, especially that those who were trapped were not yet rescued or retrieved.
Of the six patients, only one has been admitted because she needed to be monitored as she is asthmatic.
Dr. Rizal Aportadera, who heads the SPMC burn unit, said they only have one patient so far from NCCC.
He added that the greater risk is in the carbon monoxide that the fire will be emitting and those trapped will be inhaling.
In the board listing the patients from NCCC, it listed Jireh Duterte, 28; Ednard Gumela, 21, Dexter Gonzaga, 27, Ereneo Sabas Jr., 23, and Jose Banilad, 46, as having already been discharged. While only one, identified as Reggen Ombain, 20, was for admission. This confirms what Dr. Aportadera said that they only got one patient from NCCC.
Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go personally went to the area to monitor and assess the situation and relay the information he gathered to President Rodrigo Duterte.
No result of investigation
As of 6:38 p.m. Saturday, authorities could not yet provide any update because firefighters were still putting out the fire. Contrary to rumors, there were still not one rescued from the building as of 6:38 p.m., and that the fire reached the ground floor.
Survivors said that they last saw some of their colleagues making a rush for the comfort room as thick smoke filled their work place. At least 25 persons remain missing. But the Bureau of Fire Protection has not released any statement about this yet.
Unity amid diversity
All law enforcement agencies in the city including the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Central 911, Davao City Transport and Traffic Management (CTTMO), BFP and other volunteers worked hand in hand to suppress the fire while keeping the traffic in order and people secured.
There were also kind-hearted people who provided water and food for the volunteers and security forces.