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Qatar fire victim: ‘Help me, I’m going to die’

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Frantic as the flames spread in a mall fire that killed 19 people in Qatar, Filipino nursery teacher Julie Ann Soco made one final call on her cellphone. “Help me, help me, I’m going to die,” she pleaded with her aunt in the Philippines.

There was nothing the aunt could do.

Luzviminda Soco told The Associated Press on Thursday that she did not understand what the problem was and asked her niece to stop crying. The line was cut shortly after. Neither she nor Julie Ann’s mother, a caregiver in Egypt, was able to reach her again.

Julie Ann Soco, 25, and two other Filipino teachers were among the dead in Monday’s fire at the Gulf nation’s biggest mall. Thirteen children at the nursery where Soco worked also were killed.

Qatar has issued arrest orders for the owner of a fire-ravaged mall and four others as investigations widened into possible safety lapses during a blaze.

The official Qatar News Agency said Attorney General Ali bin Feitais al-Marri also ordered the detention of the owner of the child care facility where the children and four workers died. The others facing arrest are mall officials, including the director of security.

Soco’s aunt said her niece had planned to come home for a vacation in October, when she would have worked in Doha for two years.

She wanted to have a blessing in December for a newly built home for her family that she had helped finance, and to have a reunion with aunts and cousins she had regularly sent money to.

The nursery teacher was an only child. Her mother, a single parent, has been working in Egypt for more than five years. Luzvuminda helped raise Soco in their hometown in southern Cotabato city.

“It really pains her mother that they had not seen each other for many years, and now they will be together but her daughter is already a corpse,” said her aunt in a telephone interview.

Soco’s mother is scheduled to return to Cotabato next week, when Julie Ann’s body is also expected from Qatar for a burial, the aunt said.

“She was a very good child. We had no problem with her,” her aunt said, her voice cracking.

Soco and the other Filipino victims were among about 260,000 Filipinos workers in Qatar. They are part of a legion of 10 million Filipinos working abroad to escape crushing poverty and unemployment at home. The money they sent back helps their families make ends meet, taking care of monthly bills, housing, schools for children _ and more.

They fuel domestic spending that’s a lifeline of the Philippine economy and accounts for 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

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