MANILA – The moments before the fire gutted down the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) in Davao City will remain etched in the mind of Lloyd Angeles, one of the survivors who escaped death by a whisker.
Recounting that day on Dec. 23, Angeles narrated how the fire razed the fourth floor of the shopping mall, where the BPO firm Survey Sample Inc. (SSI) is located.
"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", the BPO company team leader 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 added.
Angeles said as the thick smoke built up inside the office, people hurriedly made their own ways 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 raged around the building and burning debris fell onto their office, 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.
With the scenes of horror still in his mind, Angeles said the terrible tragedy left him with a heavy heart.
“This is the saddest Christmas. Dili ko makatulog thinking about them (I couldn’t sleep thinking about them). Dill gihapon nako madawat ang nahitabo I can see their faces everytime I close my eyes. (I also couldn’t accept what happened as 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.
The fire incident occurred while Davao City is still reeling from the effects of typhoon "Vinta".
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio vowed that the city government would extend assistance to the relatives of the victims. (PNA)