Philippines department store fire leaves 17 dead

Most of the dead were store employees sleeping on the top floors

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

The blaze broke out early on Wednesday at the three-storey shop in Butuan on the southern island of Mindanao.

The victims were said to be female employees who were sleeping in the department store.

A local police official said that thick smoke meant that the women had not been able to get out.

At least 21 people were said to have been in the building at the time.

Three are reported to have escaped by jumping from a window and one remains missing, police said.

"Twenty-one 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.

"They could not find the emergency exit because of the huge volume of black smoke."

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

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