Asia

Philippine factory fire: Death toll rises to 72

A view of a gutted footwear factory in Valenzuela, Metro Manila in the Philippines on 14 May 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Large fires have been relatively common in the Philippines, particularly in slum areas

The death toll in a fire that destroyed a shoe factory in the Philippine capital has risen to 72, officials say.

Police have vowed to take swift action against those responsible, amid workers' claims of poor health and safety standards.

"Definitely there will be charges here, because people died," acting national police chief Leonardo Espina said.

Police say the fire started when sparks from welding work ignited flammable chemicals near the building's entrance.

The Philippines has lax safety standards and large fires are relatively common, particularly in slum areas.

Charges to follow

Wednesday's fire spread quickly and a few people escaped. Many more were trapped on the second floor of the building, where, according to survivors, iron grills on windows prevented their escape.

Most of the victims are thought to have suffocated in thick black smoke from burning rubber and chemicals.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Retrieving bodies from the dangerous wreckage of the factory is taking time
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Survivors say they were unaware of any fire safety regulations
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Friends and relatives face an agonising wait identifying the bodies

"Regardless of whether it was an accident or arson, people died. We are just determining what exactly happened so that we can clearly define what charges to file," Mr Espina told reporters on Thursday.

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.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People have gathered outside the gutted factory to protest against working conditions there

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.

"We were running not knowing exactly where to go," one of the survivors, Lisandro Mendoza, said.

Some of those trapped texted family members asking for help, local media reported.

The process of identifying the bodies will take time, officials warn, as fingerprints can no longer be used to identify the charred remains of the victims.

The factory is in the rundown district of Valenzuela in the north of the capital.


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