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Deadly blaze at Philippine department store

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A fire has swept through a department store in the Philippines, killing 17 people.

The blaze broke out early on Wednesday morning in Butuan on the southern island of Mindanao.

At least 21 female employees of the store were said to be asleep in the building at the time.

"21 people were asleep on the second floor when the fire struck the ground floor," Chief Inspector Mario Palarca of the provincial fire department told AFP news agency.

Eleven bodies were recovered soon after the fire was put out, said Palarca. Investigators later found six other bodies, one of his aides said.

Saleswoman Vicky Belez, one of the survivors, said she had only survived because she was in the bathroom when the fire broke out.

"I was in the bathroom. Then I saw the huge flames outside so I ran out immediately. There was a lot of smoke and the flames were already huge," the 21-year-old said as doctors treated her burned arms.

It is common in the Philippines for people in low-paid jobs to sleep at their place of work.

The store's assistant supervisor, Berlita Ballestero, said there was only one emergency door linked to the employees' living quarters.

"They must have had trouble getting out because there is only one fire exit," she told AFP.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.


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