President Duterte made an unannounced visit to a Davao City mall that was gutted by fire yesterday (Saturday, December 23).
A fire broke out at the New City Commercial Complex Mall at about 9.30am and was still burning – although said to be “under control” – when the president arrived at about 10pm.
Mr Duterte, whose family home is near the mall, inspected the damage as firefighters and volunteers continued to search for 28 people – most of them believed to be call centre workers – who are still unaccounted for.
Unconfirmed reports say that bodies have already been recovered from the scene.
The president spoke to relatives of the missing and pledged help them in any way possible. Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles also met with the worried families.
“The archbishop consoled them,” an unidentified source told The Inquirer.
Earlier, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte also visited the scene of the blaze and spoke to relatives.
“I am also praying for the safety of the missing persons in the mall fire,” she told them, adding that she would do anything she could to assist.
The fire broke out as city officials and emergency workers were busy responding to victims of widespread flooding across the city caused by tropical storm Vinta.
Police spokeswoman Senior Inspector Maria Teresita Gaspan said the fire broke out just as the Davao City mall opened to Christmas shoppers.
She said flames were first spotted at the furniture section of the mall’s third floor and quickly spread to the upper floor, where the call centre is located.
Sn. Insp. Gaspan said firefighters from across the city battled the flames as paramedics conducted search and rescue operations inside.
Hours after the blaze began, rescuers were able to get six people out, she said.
Taken to hospital were Reggen Ombain, aged 20, Jireh Duterte, 28, Ednard Gumela, 21, Dexter Gonzaga, 27, Ereneo Sabas Jr, 23, and Jose Banilad, 46. Other than Ombain, all have now been discharged.
It was not immediately known if the six people rescued were call centre workers, mall employees or shoppers.
In a statement on Facebook, mall spokeswoman Thea Septann Padua said: “It is unfortunate that we confirm that there was a fire at the third floor of NCCC Mall Department Store. Bureau of Fire Protection has the situation under control and we are still verifying the extent of the incident.
“We are currently coordinating with the authorities. However, there are no reported casualties.”
An investigation into the fire has been launched.