Two fires spark riots in Manila

NO HOLIDAY::After the two blazes killed at least eight people and razed thousands of homes, warnings were issued that a tropical storm is threatening the country

AFP, MANILA

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 - Page 5

At least eight people were killed and thousands left homeless as two fires struck the Philippine capital on Christmas Day yesterday, sparking riots as a slum went up in flames, Manila’s fire marshal said.

Seven bodies were recovered and two other people were missing as a blaze erupted at dawn in a row of old apartments in the Baler section of northern Metro Manila, Chief Superintendent Santiago Laguna said.

Suspected arsonists meanwhile set off a second blaze at a sprawling shantytown across the city, sparking rioting that left one man dead and two others arrested, he said in an interview that aired over DZBB radio.

“They [residents] started grabbing hoses from our firefighters, who could not do anything as they feared for their own safety,” Laguna said.

A man was beaten up and later died from his injuries in the melee as the blaze consumed the shantytown in San Juan, Metro Manila, he added.

“They mistook him for a fireman,” he said of the victim, adding that two suspected rioters were also arrested.

Laguna said residents were apparently infuriated by the delayed arrival of firefighters and took it upon themselves to grab fire hoses to aim at their blazing shanties.

However, he said the residents were themselves to blame.

“Our firetrucks had difficulty entering the narrow streets that were blocked by parked cars and carts,” he said. “Our firefighters had to drag the hoses into the alleys, where they were attacked.”

The shantytown blaze left about 2,000 families homeless, he said, a figure that equates to at least 8,000 people.

Laguna said the cause of the apartment blaze was under investigation, though he added that electrical circuits had probably overloaded from increased use during Christmas Eve parties across the metropolis of 14 million people.

Meanwhile, flood and landslide warnings were issued across the central and southern Philippines yesterday as Tropical Storm Wukong threatened the disaster-prone nation, officials said.

The eye of the storm was expected to hit land on Samar Island before dawn today, bringing “heavy to intense” rain over a 350km-wide front, the state weather service said.

These areas should expect potential landslides and floods, and local officials may have to order evacuations, civil defense head Benito Ramos said.

He said the outer bands of the storm, which has wind gusts of up to 80kph, would affect areas of the south devastated by Typhoon Bopha earlier this month.

“This will cause flash floods and landslides. Our people still have time to evacuate, but we give the local government units the discretion to make the call,” he said.

The government said the final Bopha death toll would likely hit 1,500, making it the second deadliest since the Philippines began keeping records in 1947.