`God's Flock' gets culled in Philippine blaze

HOTEL INFERNO: An early-morning fire which gutted a hotel near Manila left at least 75 guests dead, most of them attendees of a conference for born-again Christians


Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 1

At least 75 people, most of them members of the "God's Flock" Christian sect, died yesterday in a pre-dawn fire that ripped through a Philippine hotel, officials said.

The group from several rural provinces was staying at the budget, six-story Manor Hotel in Quezon City while attending a conference for born-again Christians in Manila.

At least 34 people were also injured in the blaze.

Many of the victims, including children, died of suffocation in their rooms as they were overcome by thick fumes and unable to escape due to barred windows and a shortage of fire exits.

President Gloria Arroyo visited a hospital where the survivors were being treated as well as the makeshift morgue where the bodies of the dead were being kept.

The fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, started at 4:30am on the third floor of the hotel and spread quickly to several other floors, police said.

Many of the 200-odd guests, including 169 God's Flock members attending the conference, were trapped in their rooms.

At the height of the three-hour blaze, scores of trapped guests were seen weeping and waving to firemen along the hotel's balcony, crying for help and shaking grilles and iron bars on their windows.

"There were many people who were trapped and yearning for help but who could not be rescued," Johnny Yu, Metro Manila director for civil defense, said.

Firemen had to train their hoses on desperate guests crowding along the balconies waiting for help, as the flames spread behind them. They used circular saws to cut the grilles before rescuing the victims using long ladders mounted on fire engines.

The bodies were later taken to a police camp in the suburb where they were lined up on the floor of a basketball court, waiting for weeping relatives to identify them.

The city's fire marshal, Ricardo Nemenze, was suspended soon after the blaze pending an investigation as Jose Lina, the interior and local government secretary, vowed to press charges if criminal neglect was established. Lina said his office would look into reports that the hotel was found only two months ago to have flouted the building code and was given 15 to 30 days to rectify any lack of facilities including safety measures.

It was the worst fire disaster to hit the country since a 1996 blaze in Ozone Disco, also in Quezon City, killed about 160 people.