QC hotel fire kills 75

- Bebot Sison Jr., Cecille Suerte Felipe -
Building safety violations and barred windows turned a budget hotel in Quezon City into a suffocating death trap yesterday as a pre-dawn fire swept through it, killing 75 people.

Officials said six others were injured, but witnesses claimed the number could be higher.

Many of the victims were participants in a Christian crusade sponsored by the Texas-based Don Clowers Ministries.

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said 62 died on the spot while 13 died in hospitals.

Several Americans reportedly came for the so-called "Destiny Conference" but it appeared none of them were among the casualties.

Police lined up 66 bodies at a nearby basketball court, covered them with straw mats, took fingerprints and put them in body bags after they were identified. A huge blackboard was used to list down the dead after they had been identified.

Several bodies were found in a bathroom where they apparently hid from the killer smoke. Some victims were still in their pajamas, while others were wearing conference badges.

Belmonte said firefighters and arson investigators were prevented from searching the fifth floor of the Manor Hotel on Kamias Road in Kamuning district in Quezon City for bodies because the blaze had badly weakened the structure.

He said the first two floors were used as offices while the next three were used as hotel rooms.

Belmonte also said authorities had warned the hotel management regarding its inadequate fire safety.

Firemen said the victims were trapped in their rooms by the anti-burglar iron bars, while many of the fire exits were blocked or locked.

Although some of the corpses had burns, virtually all of the victims died of suffocation or smoke inhalation. The only marks on their bodies were black patches of soot around their mouths and nostrils.

This indicated that the hotel lacked safety measures such as water sprinklers, as well as fire alarms, emergency lights and fire exits, authorities said.

"We saw a lot of dead in bathrooms," said Col. Jacinto Diquiatco, a senior fire officer.

He said one of the fatalities had his face submerged in a toilet bowl.

The bodies of a man and his wife were found huddled in a bathroom on the sixth floor. "Let’s try to revive these two," a paramedic said as they took down the couple.

Paramedics tried to revive some of the victims, but without success.

Danilo Cabrera of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said the building apparently had no fire alarm or emergency lights.

Eighteen were rescued when firefighters sawed through the iron bars.

"Without doubt, there would have been more people rescued if there had been no iron grills on the windows," Belmonte said. "There were people hanging on windows crying out to be rescued."

Witnesses said whole families could be seen gripping the iron bars in their windows and balconies in terror, weeping and calling for help as firemen doused them with water to cool them down.

"It was a very depressing scene, especially it was sad to see the victims just helpless," said Johnny Yu, Metro Manila director for civil defense.

Most of the fatalities were adults with ages ranging from 30 to 40, while six were children.

Police said the hotel had 236 registered guests, including 172 who were attending the crusade. Rooms reportedly went for about P1,000 a night, but some guests said they paid at least P300 for a bed.

Mattresses reportedly covered the floors of rooms on the third floor, indicating many people were jampacked into each room.

Officials said the building must have been built in the late 1970s and might have been damaged by a previous fire.

They said it was apparently not designed as a hotel, having no windows on the rear, and had some permanent occupants.

The BFP said the fire may be the deadliest ever to hit a hotel in the country.

The hotel’s garage was converted into a makeshift morgue as the fatalities were taken down.

In the absence of body bags, the corpses were wrapped in blankets or any other pieces of cloth.

The fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, started shortly after 4 a.m. on the third floor and spread quickly to adjoining floors, and was put out after two hours.

Belmonte said the blaze probably started at a karaoke bar and restaurant on the third floor, possibly in the kitchen.

Police said the fire could have been caused by overheating of an air conditioning system.

It was described as the worst fire in the country since March 19, 1996 when at least 160 people, mostly teenagers, were killed in a fire that razed the Ozone Disco, also in Quezon City.
Great escape
Two persons attempted to jump off from the building but were stopped and rescued. Two others leaped and survived, with one of them landing on a concrete canopy.

Another survivor, Abner Romano, said there were no emergency lights, sprinklers and warning devices.

He said they learned that the hotel was on fire when someone banged on the doors of their rooms.

Marc Senatin, who lives two houses away from the hotel, said he saw somebody jump out of a third-floor window.

Senatin’s wife said they were roused from sleep by cries for help and shouting from the burning hotel.

Daisy Tolentino, 21, spoke in whisper from her hospital bed, saying she woke up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water from the bathroom outside her room.

"That saved my life," she said, adding that she would have been trapped if she had stayed in bed.

Tolentino was among 18 people rescued by the firefighters.
Manhunt on for hotel owner
Authorities have launched a manhunt for Manor Hotel owner William Genato even as investigations were underway to determine the actual cause of the fire.

This developed as President Arroyo condoled with the families and relatives of the victims.

The President visited the survivors who were taken to the East Avenue Hospital in Quezon City where she instructed Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman to extend financial assistance to the victims ranging from P5,000 to P10,000.

She also instructed Philippine Charity Sweepstakes chairwoman Livia Singson to shoulder the medicine and hospitalization expenses of the victims.

Mrs. Arroyo urged all local government units, particularly those in urban centers, to strictly enforce provisions of the Building Code.

Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina directed the BFP to submit a complete report within 48 hours on its investigation into the Manor fire.

Lina directed Chief Superintendent Francisco Senot to determine the actual cause of the fire, as well as look into the possible violations of the building code by the owners.

"From where we stand right now, it seems there is a violation. Charges will be filed against the owner of the building if he violated the law," Lina said. With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Perseus Echeminada

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