By Yas Ocampo
DAVAO CITY — It may as well be the worst Christmas for the relatives and colleagues of 36 trapped SSI employees after responders found their lifeless bodies on Christmas morning.
Authorities confirmed that the remaining 36 employees had been found this morning, while the rest of the city was still torn between celebrating the annual holiday and fearing the worst for their fellow Dabawenyos.
The bodies, officials from the Bureau of Fire Protection said, were found at the fourth floor lobby of SSI.
A few steps away could have been the steps leading to the ground floor where they could have made it to safety.
However, surviving employees told the Manila Bulletin that smoke was making its way toward the stairways, including the fire exits.
This is still being confirmed by fire investigators.
But the location of the victims disproves initial reports they were huddled inside the fourth floor comfort room or locker.
Fire officials said some of those who died had already made it out but decided to come back for their things.
Mayor Sara Duterte, speaking to reporters, said there will be three investigations: that of the BFP, the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) and a third party investigator hired by the relatives of the deceased.
The bodies will be transferred to the Southern Philippines Medical Center for identification, with relatives to determine distinguishing marks and jewelry. DNA testing as last resort.
The finding of the bodies puts to rest speculation that some of the victims were still alive.
The fire started around 9:30 a.m., with tenants and shoppers immediately evacuated.
Among the survivors of the fire were at least six victims transported by responders from Central 911 from the mall to the Southern Philippines Medical Center.
Early into the fire, there were also three employees trapped on the roof, who survived by bunnyhopping along the rooftop ledges, their feet likely avoiding the heat of burning metal.
These were reportedly utility personnel who were fixing the airconditioning.
Meanwhile, fire officials also reported saving two dogs and one cat from a pet shop.
As firefighters tried to fight the flames and make their way into the location of the victims, Dabawenyo reporters fought fake news online, with various rumors spreading through the internet.
Among the rumors were that one (or all) of the victims had already been rescued.
Another rumor involved one of the three utility workers jumping to save his life (this turned out to be a pigeon that photobombed the shot).
The fire incident occurred days after a flood hit the city and affected around 19,000 families.
While the fire was ongoing, volunteers were repacking goods to be distributed to at least 25 evacuation sites.
Among those who were supposed to be involved in the distribution of goods were reportedly NCCC Mall employees, before the fire hit.