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Christmas Day fire hits Ormoc dep't store; 24 killed, 21 injured


At least 24 persons were killed while no less than 21 others were injured in a fire supposedly caused by firecrackers at a one-storey department store in Ormoc City in Leyte province late Monday afternoon. Chief Superintendent Eliseo dela Paz, director of Philippine National Police Region 8, said the local health office have asked the relatives of the victims to come forward to identify their kin. He said they were having difficulties identifying the fatalities as the bodies were charred. Senior Superintendent Manuel Cobillo, Ormoc acting police director, said in a radio interview that, "We can't determine which remains were those of the vendors or the customers because most of the bodies were severely burnt. But there were vendors and customers inside the mall when the fire hit." Dela Paz added many of those injured sustained fractured bones and bruises when they scampered away to get out of the building. The other victims suffered from suffocation. He said a three-month old baby was among those hurt who were brought to three hospitals. Twelve of the injured victims were confined at Ormoc Sugar Planters Association Hospital, seven were brought to Clinica Gatchalian and two were receiving treatment at Ormoc District Hospital. Dela Paz said they were still investigating how the fire started. At least 23 bodies were recovered as of Monday evening. Cobillo said rescuers recovered a 24th body Monday night. All except one of people who died trapped inside the mall's comfort room. At least one victim, meanwhile, died while undergoing hospital treatment. Ormoc police raised fears that more bodies would be recovered in the coming hours. He said the fire started at about 4:45 p.m. inside the one-storey Uni-Top mall in Ormoc City. He said the mall sells products made from China and Taiwan at low prices. Cobillo also said they are now looking for the owner of the mall, whom he said may face charges after initial investigation showed the fire exits were blocked. "There were exits but they were locked. Many of the fatalities tried to hide in the comfort room. Some of the women victims were pregnant," he said. Quoting initial reports, he said the owner is a Taiwanese trader whom he did not immediately identify. He said the trader ran the mall like the 168 mall in Divisoria, Manila. Cobillo said the fire started near the entrance, supposedly after some firecrackers inside the store exploded. He said damage to property was initially estimated at P10 million. - with a report from Amita Legaspi, GMANews.TV
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