Smoke billows from the Waterfront Manila Pavilion as firefighters work to put out a fire that broke out at the hotel yesterday morning. Edd Gumban

3 dead in hotel fire
Rey Galupo (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — At least three employees of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) were confirmed dead, two declared missing and at least 15 others injured when a fire broke out at the Waterfront Manila Pavilion hotel and casino at the corner of United Nations Avenue and Ma. Orosa Street in Ermita, Manila yesterday morning.

The Manila Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and the Manila Police District (MPD) identified the fatalities as treasury officer Jun Evangelista, assistant treasury officer Marilyn Omadto and security officer Billy de Castro, who were all declared dead on arrival at the nearby Manila Doctors Hospital.

A fourth victim, who was initially declared dead, was revived by doctors.

Two closed-circuit television operators were still unaccounted for as of last night and Pagcor officials were worried that they did not make it.

Pagcor assistant vice president for corporate communications Carmelita Valdez did not give the names of the missing employees but assured the public that 68 out of the 73 personnel on duty were safe and accounted for. The 73 were part of the more than 200 employees assigned at the hotel’s casino working on three shifts.

MPD spokesperson Superintendent Erwin Margarejo said police investigators from Station 5 were having a hard time identifying the victims because the hospital guards were not letting them in.

Manila City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council director Johnny Yu said at least 20 hotel guests were trapped on the fifth floor of the hotel but they were alive and communicating with the rescuers.

The BFP said officials are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, which started at 9:58 a.m. on the ground and second floors – where welders are working on renovations – before it spread to the upper levels.

The hotel has been undergoing renovation since last year, according to Pagcor senior manager Eric Balcos.

The casino and several restaurants are located on the ground and second floors.

Valdez said the fatalities might have been trapped “saving the properties of Pagcor because the protocol were all followed to the letter.”

The victims were assigned at the treasury department where money and casino chips, among others, were kept.

BFP operations chief Fire Inspector Crossid Cante said the fire reached Task Force Bravo before it was put under control around 3 p.m.

Valdez said they wanted to know the cause and who were liable for the tragedy.

“We will dig deeper into this. These are our employees and we want to have answers when their families start asking us,” she told The STAR.

Pagcor chairman Andrea Domingo promised assistance to the families of the victims and assured the displaced workers that they will have complete benefits and will continue to receive their salaries even if they will have not yet reported for work.

Because of the fire, all roads leading to Ma. Orosa, T.M. Kalaw, and UN Ave. were closed to traffic yesterday.

No word from management

Meanwhile, Waterfront communications manager Pia de Villa said all their employees were safe and accounted for and no one among their guests were reported injured.

De Villa, however, refused to comment when asked about the cause of the fire, saying arson probers are still conducting investigation.

She said they have not heard of earlier reports that guests and employees were trapped on the fifth floor, “but we will check on it.”

De Villa said a press release was forthcoming.

Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, who is reportedly one of the stockholders of the establishment, said he was in Valenzuela City and he was “not the proper person to ask because” he has “already divested from the company.”

No one from the staff of his brother, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, was available for comment.

President Duterte yesterday conducted an aerial inspection of the areas in Manila affected by the fire.

The President checked the extent of the damage caused by the fire after attending the graduation ceremony of the Philippine Military Academy class of 2018 in Baguio City. – With Alexis Romero

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