Thursday, 14 May 2015

More bodies found in Philippines slipper factory fire

Officials said the death toll in a rubber slipper factory fire in a suburb of the Philippines’ capital had climbed to at least 72 on Thursday as police continued to retrieve charred bodies from the gutted building. Dozens more remained missing and feared dead.

A fierce blaze quickly took hold of the Kentex Manufacturing Corp factory in Valenzuela city north of Manila on Wednesday. On Thursday Eduardo Nazar, village council chief of Ugong where the factory is located, said: “The [police forensic officers] will do all they can to identify the victims because they are totally burned.”

The flames were so intense that even jewellery the victims wore that might have helped with their identification had melted in the heat or fallen off, Nazar said.

The local mayor, Rex Gatchalian, said retrieval of the remains resumed on Thursday after it was suspended late on Wednesday because of the heat and worries about the instability of the two-storey building.

He said relatives of the missing were asked to provide lists of clothing items, body features, dental records and other items to help identify the victims.

Dionesio Candido, whose daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law and niece were among the missing, said iron grilles reinforced with fencing wire covered windows on the second floor that “could prevent even cats from escaping”.

He said he was allowed by authorities to enter the gutted building where he saw charred remains “piled on top of each other” but could not say how many.

District fire marshal Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu said he was among the first to reach the second floor of the gutted building after the fire and saw “numerous bodies” but could not immediately say how many.

The owner of the factory, which is operated by Kentex Manufacturing and produces rubber flip flops and sandals, said about 200 to 300 people were inside the building at the time of the fire.

The mayor of the Valenzuela district, Rexlon Gatchalian, told the AFP news agency he did not expect the death toll to rise much further, as the number of bodies retrieved matched the number of people missing.

Local media reports quoted relatives as saying their kin sent text messages saying they were on the second floor but contact was lost shortly after.

Gatchalian said the fire was apparently ignited by sparks from welding work being done at the factory’s main entrance door, triggering an explosion of the chemicals used to make the slippers.

Workers fled to the second floor where they were trapped, he said. He was unsure if there were any fire escapes there.

Tiu, the fire marshal, said the building had other exits but apparently the workers were overwhelmed by the thick black smoke from the burning rubber and chemicals, which are highly flammable and caused the blaze to spread quickly.

Survivors and relatives of the victims told the news agency that factory employees worked for below minimum wage, surrounded by chemicals, and unaware of fire safety standards.

Thursday 14 May 2015


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