MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – At least 31 people were killed when a fire razed a slipper factory in Valenzuela City on Wednesday, May 13, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said.
BFP chief Ariel Baraguya said in an interview on radio station dzBB, however, that the latest body count is still unofficial as the entire building would have to be thoroughly scoured before an official death toll is announced.
BFP officials earlier reported that 3 people died of suffocation, one of them a relative of the factory owner. Prior to the latest body count, local officials said 63 factory workers were reported as unaccounted for, and that there were 39 survivors.
Past 4 pm, when the fire was declared under control, Mayor Rex Gatchalian delivered a plea and grim news to the families of the 63 workers gathered outside the factory in Barangay Ugong.
"Kung may chance na nakalabas sila at pumunta sa bahay ng mga kamag-anak 'nyo, tawagan 'nyo, baka may chance na pumunta sila ibang lugar. Please do it now. Kausap ko ang BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection). Lahat ng nasa loob ng building, walang nabuhay," Gatchalian said then, causing the families to break down in grief.
(If there is still a chance that they escaped and went elsewhere, and went to the homes of your relatives, please call them. There's a chance that they went somewhere else. Please do it now. I talked to the BFP. There are no survivors in the building.)
Gatchalian said the number of unaccounted workers came from the families who went outside the factory site and informed authorities of their missing kin who reported to work that day.
The official death toll would be announced once authorities recover all the bodies inside the building, mostly at the second floor where the assembly area is located.
Firefighters experienced difficulty putting out the blaze because of the thick smoke emitted by burning rubber and other flammable materials in the slipper factory, as well as the "extreme heat," BFP officials said.
Gatchalian and the BFP said that based on initial reports and observations, people at the second floor were unable to escape because of the extreme heat and the thick smoke emanating from the ground floor.
The Valenzuela city government said in a 2 pm update posted on its official social media accounts, that local authorities were still determining the number of factory workers trapped inside the facility.
It said the fire “is due to a welding activity near a chemical compound” inside the factory premises, at the front gate.
In its 3 pm update, the city government appealed to the public not to go near the site until the fire was put out. It said a Task Force Charlie alarm was still raised over the fire.The city government said it would assist those who have been injured and the families of the casualties.
The fire was declared under control past 4 pm, and fire out a couple of hours later.
The Valenzuela City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) had set up help desks for families of factory employees.