24 people die in Ormoc store fire
- Jose P. Sollano, Garry B. Lao () - December 27, 2006 - 12:00am
It was a fiery instead of a merry Christmas Day in Ormoc City after 24 people died in a department store fire that was reportedly caused by exploding firecrackers.

The victims were either shoppers or staff of Unitop Bargain Center located along Real St. in downtown Ormoc. A total of 21 others have also been reported injured in the fired that was tapped at 4:40 p.m. on December 25 and was put off only over hours later.

Fire probers say that illegally sold firecrackers inside the store premises were the cause of the blaze.

Senior Fire Officer Virgilio Betancor said that witnesses claimed to have seen a boy buying firecrackers and asked a female cashier how to light it.

The witnesses added that the boy actually lit one firecraker and threw it towards the stall containing firecrackers for sale starting a series of explosions and the blaze.

Since the firecrackers were displayed at the entrance of the department store, many of the shoppers and staff were trapped inside when the fire broke out.

Almera Moto, who sells DVDs and VCDs in a stall in front of the center, said the fire quickly engulfed the whole store that they were not able to carry any of their goods.

Moto recalls that she first heard a single explosion then it was followed by sporadic explosion and thick black smoke engulfed the main door.

Moto further said that she saw center manager Kenneth Chu running around and calling at the people inside the store to come out.

Chu was also seen running at the back area of the center where the fire exit was located, but he left the keys inside his office and could not open the padlock.

The firefighters and local rescue team recovered 23 charred bodies at the comfort room while the 24th victim died at the Ormoc Sugar Planters Association Hospital.

The bodies were immediately brought to the V. Rama Funeral Homes in Ormoc.

Vincent Rama, the Cebuano owner of the funeral parlor, said that some bodies were already identified by their relatives and families.

The victims that have been identified are Shiela Teves, Annaliza Orayle, Mica Orayle, Eleonor Empimo, Catherine Mistula, Anna Mae Sanchez, Norissa Inday, Junrey Inday, Oscar Merino, Luzviminda Baguio, Brandy Bantasan, Felipe Obeña, Eddie Boy Obeña, Dante Pigay, Elvisa Dequinco, Helen Constantino, and Severina Cartagena, who died at the OSPA hospital. Six victims are yet to be identified.

Sanchez was supposed to celebrate her 18th birthday yesterday.

Ormoc City Mayor Eric Codilla already ordered authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident.

Codilla also allowed the local city health office to bury the bodies of those that would not be identified by their families if they cannot be identified in 24 hours.

At the press conference, city health officer Nelita Navales personally asked the permission to bury the bodies to avoid health problems.

Learning from the incident in Ormoc, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña immediately tasked the city's fire department and the police to strictly monitor the sale and display of firecrackers in order to keep the Cebuanos safe and sound during the celebration of the holidays.

Osmeña also warned business establishments not to display their firecrackers at the entrance and exit of their stores to avoid of what happened in Ormoc.

"Any establishment that sells firecrackers that blocks their fire exit and entrance will be automatically be closed for four months," Osmena said.

Councilor Sylvan Jakosalem, vice chairman of the committee on public safety, said he already informed Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau chief Pablo Labra to cracked down on dealers and vendors selling fireworks inside malls and stores in order to prevent accidents.

"It's definitely a wake up call on public safety. We cannot allow that to happen in Cebu," Jakosalem said.

Jakosalem said the incident in Ormoc will allow the city to review the laws and current status of the implementation regarding the selling of fireworks especially the store was not authorized to sell fireworks.

ALMERA MOTO ANNA MAE SANCHEZ ANNALIZA ORAYLE BRANDY BANTASAN CATHERINE MISTULA CEBU CITY MAYOR TOMAS OSME FIRE FIRECRACKERS ORMOC
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