By Yas Ocampo, PNA, and Antonio Colina IV
Davao City – When fire broke out at a furniture store on the third level of the 14-year-old New City Commercial Center (NCCC) in Davao City at about 9:30 a.m. on December 23, it quickly engulfed an outsourcing business on the upper floor.
On that day, Melvin Ga-a, a member of the NCCC Emergency Action Team (NEAT) had his hands full.
Thea Padua, NCCC’s spokesperson said Melvin helped brought down 83 employees of the US-based Research Now Survey Sample Inc. (SSI) and about 700 NCCC mall personnel and guests.
“Melvin had already brought down several SSI employees and was already seen having safely exited the building at the ground floor. But instead of remaining downstairs, he went upstairs again to try to save more people,” said Padua. Melvin never resurfaced.
His remains were identified by his wife Rosela Tuesday as one of 36 persons recovered by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Monday night near the lobby of the SSI offices on the fourth floor.
“We offer his family our sympathies and recognize with the deepest gratitude Melvin’s sacrifice,” said Padua
Thirty-six bodies have so far been identified. Two SSI employees remain missing. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said a DNA test will be conducted on the remains of two who were charred beyond recognition.
The family of Mikko Demafeliz already submitted DNA samples while representatives from the City Social Welfare and Development Office are coordinating with the family of Alexandra Moreno.
Lloyd Angeles, the SSI team leader recounted how he tried to save his co-employees trapped in their work areas.
“It was not minutes but seconds po. Everything happened so fast. We followed the (evacuation) plan and divided each teams to their respective exits but the smoke was already thick and it was already hot”, Angeles said in his Facebook post in the morning of Dec. 25.
“I picked up an extinguisher thinking the fire is the AHU. I looked to my right and saw agents just standing looking at each other and this was the fire exit going to Ma-a and asked them what are they doing. Someone said (the) smoke was too thick. We said “go to the Lobby,” he posted.
Angeles said as thick smoke built up inside the office, people hurriedly made their way out while he rushed to locate his co-workers.
“While people are exiting, someone told me there are still people sa locker area. I ran to the locker area and smoke was already black and I yelled “lobby” so many times I couldn’t count it. After everyone exited the hallway, I started moving towards the lobby and exited the building,” he said.
As flames razed the building and burning debris started to fall, Angeles said, he did his best to direct his teammates to safety.
“On the ground I started checking my team’s headcount, ran to the other side of NCCC and started yelling “W3, W3, W3” then went to back of the mall to check if I have agents there too,” he said.
“When they told me that we are missing four (officemates), and two of those are confirmed that they are still inside, I went back up and informed the fire fighters that we still have people trapped.”
Angeles said the scorching heat and the thick smoke prevented firefighters and rescue teams from entering the fourth floor of the shopping mall.
“We tried to go back in on every possible entry and it was too hot and the smoke was too thick,” he said.
“Nagsige mi ug balik2 sa mga entry points dili dyud makaya miski tung special unit sa fire na naka special gear di gihapon makaya. (We tried getting to the entry points but we couldn’t, even the fire special units who wore special gears failed to get in),” his post read.
“This is the saddest Christmas. Dili ko makatulog thinking about them (I couldn’t sleep thinking about them). Dili gihapon nako madawat ang nahitabo I can see their faces everytime I close my eyes. (I also couldn’t accept what happened. I see their faces everytime I close my eyes),” Angeles added.
“I am so sorry. I know you are all up there. Rest in peace and please watch over us,” he said referring to Jade Entera, Mikko Demafeliz, Analiza Peñarijo, Randy Balcao, Apple Jane Abes Celades, Maryjoy Hope A. Daluro (Mj), Jessica Solis, Rai Rai Ken, Chinee Bangoy (Kurtchin Angela), Christine Fern, Venus Joy Kimpo, Ivan Nebelle L. Roble, Jeffrey Sismar, Ian Kiem Adlawan and the rest of the trapped agents.
700 degrees heat
Bureau of Fire Protection 11 Regional Director Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu apologized to the family of the victims for not commanding and forcibly directing fire rescue teams to penetrate the building already at 500 to 700 degree Celsius temperature inside.
Tiu said every time rescue teams would move forward they were met with so much heat and thick smoke “more than what people see escaping from the walls of the mall.”
The responders had to back off again every time they move forward.
“We cannot sustain the heat and we have to make a strategy again,” he said. The high temperature, he said could melt the equipment and gears of the rescue teams.
BFP lacks equipment like high ladders and for boring holes in walls of burning buildings. The last time the agency got new assets was during the Ramos administration.
‘I love you all’
Rhen Muyco said her 25-year-old daughter Renzi Nova called her by mobile phone as fire raged Saturday. “Ma, there is a fire here. If something happens to me, I love you all,” she said by mobile phone.
Duterte-Carpio said the city will shoulder the funeral expense of the victims while SSI vowed to provide the bereaved families with livelihood packages. Most of those who died were breadwinners.
The NCCC also will provide scholarships for the children of the victims.
Three agencies – NBI, BFP and the DILG – are currently investigating the incident.
Here is the updated list of NCCC fire victims:
- Sismar, Jeffrey
- Bongcayao, Mary Louielyn
- Bangoy, Kurtchin Angela
- Pabelonia, Joy
- Garzon, Christen
- Quimsing, Jim Benedict
- Basalan, Jonas
- Samontina, Jessica
- Quimpo, Venus Joy
- Limosnero, Jimboy
- Ferraren, Christine Joy
- Montanez, Rosyl
- Artiaga, Missy Rose
- Muyco, Rhenzi Nova
- Roble, Ivan Nebelle
- Yorsua, Elyn Joy
- Bacaling, Shiela Mae
- Antipuesto, Roderick
- Abad, Nancy Loyd
- Solis, Jessica
- Liwaya, Charlyn
- Ga-a, Melvin
- Generales, Regine
- Celestial, Gantioco
- Celades, Apple Jane
- Adlawan, Ian Kiem
- Entera, Lister Jade
- Piñajiro, Analiza
- Alviola, Christine
- Constantinopla, Roderick
- Zacarias, Dresiree Gayle
- Matundo, Johani
- Apalacio, Iana
- Daloro, Maryjoy
- Balcao, Randy
- Obo, Janine Joy
The bodies have already been claimed, while the rest are in a funeral home waiting for proof of identification.