DAVAO CITY - Aprielle Bolosito thought it was going to be the end for her as she struggled desperately against the suffocating smoke and the searing heat in the dark to escape the fire raging through the call centre where she worked.
I told myself I am going to die. I tried to locate my cell phone so I could use the flashlight [app] but I couldn't find it," she said in an emotional account on her Facebook page punctuated by crying emoticons.
The fire started early on Saturday at the third floor of NCCC Mall and quickly reached the fourth floor call centre offices of the US-based Survey Sampling International (SSI) Davao, a global data provider.
Officials on Sunday said that there was "zero chance" of survival for 37 of Bolosito's colleagues who were missing in the blaze because of the smoke and heat.
"I cannot breathe. I covered my nose and mouth with my jacket. I ran back to the office because fire was everywhere already and we were trapped at the locker room. But the office was full of suffocating smoke as well," Bolosito said.
With the ceiling crackling above them, she and her coworkers were crying and screaming inside the locker room because the "blistering heat" blocked their way to a fire exit, she said on her Facebook page hours after her escape.
"I was thinking of [my] son all the time and tried hard to escape even if I could not see anything," she said.
While trying to find a way out, Bolosito said she heard one of her supervisors, Lloyd Angeles, yelling that the lobby might be safe.
NO ONE FOLLOWED
Angeles headed out but no one else followed her and only heard their panicked voices.
"They were saying it was very hot there already and that they might no longer be able to withstand the heat. I also heard a couple of them shouting CR! CR!" she said.
Bolosito and other colleagues with whom she was reunited ran to a billiard hall on the east side of the mall, which led to another fire exit, but they couldn't break its glass door.
She said she and her colleagues eventually managed to find an area that was still free of smoke and led to another exit to safety.
Bolosito said it was "very traumatic" for her to have seen those who were still missing "at the height of the chaos" and learning later that they did not make it.
"I'm out of words to describe how I a feel! They really struggled and fought to survive," she added. "How blessed and thankful I am that I am alive."
Other SSI workers also were overcome by grief.
Leilani Ortaliz said her "caring and jolly" friend and supervisor, Ivan Nebelle Roble, who is among those missing, had left "weird posts" on Facebook days before the fire.
On Dec. 17, Roble said in a cryptic post: "You'll miss me when I'm gone."
A day before the fire, he posted: "2017 was a weird year because I was somehow living my best life and worst life at the same time" along with a hashtag #GoingOfflineForAWhile.
Jessica Solis, who also is missing, reacted saying, ""Hahaha, won't forget this!"
"I'm weeping. I am very emotional now," Ortaliz told the Inquirer in a Facebook chat.
Pring Tabada, also an SSI employee, said Solis was a very caring team manager, who had accompanied her to an administration hearing to show support two days before the fire.
Tabada struggled with the loss of Solis and three other close SSI colleagues.
"Lord, how can I possibly accept [what happened], all my best friends are gone, I'm now alone. Rest in Peace Girls," she said.