DAVAO CITY, Philippines, May 9 (Xinhua) -- Six more bodies were recovered from beneath the rubble, bringing to 18 the number of fatalities in Wednesday's fire that razed a commercial complex in southern Philippines, police said.
At least four people are still missing and are believed to be trapped under the collapsed building in downtown Butuan City, in Mindanao's Agusan del Norte province, according to Superintendent Martin Gamba, Caraga police regional spokesperson.
"So far, 18 bodies have already been retrieved. Police and rescuers are still searching for at least four more reportedly trapped," Gamba told Xinhua by mobile phone.
An investigation is now underway following allegations that most of the victims, all stay-in salesladies of the commercial center owned by Chinese-Filipino trader Boy Tan, were not able to escape as the door leading out of the establishment was padlocked twice.
Most of the dead were employees of local apparel retailer Novo Jeans and Shirts.
Three salesgirls were able to flee from the fire when it broke out around 3 a.m. by jumping out of the fire exit located in the building's second floor. Those who made out alive suffered injuries and had to be rushed to a local hospital for treatment, Gamba said. Firefighters were able to control the blaze after over three hours, he added.
The tragedy was considered one of the worst fire incidents in southern Philippines in recent years, authorities said.