Shocking safety lapses and barred windows turned a hotel in a suburb of the Philippine capital into a death trap Saturday with trapped hotel guests screaming in vain for help.
At least 75 people died after the blaze broke out on the third floor of the budget Manor Hotel in Quezon City at 4:30 am (2030 GMT Friday).
Almost all the people in the hotel were members of "God's Flock,” a religious group attending a conference for born-again Christians.
Firefighters battled to rescue hotel guests trapped in their rooms by iron bars on the windows and balconies.
Whole families could be seen gripping the metal bats in terror, weeping and crying for help as firefighters doused them with water to try to cool them down.
Firemen used circular saws to cut through some of the bars and succeeded in pulling a few people through the windows and onto elevated ladders on the fire engines.
Although some victims suffered burns, the overwhelming majority of those killed died from suffocation due to smoke inhalation.
From outside, the six-storey hotel did not even appear to be damaged by the fire that reportedly originated from an electrical spark.
Only the interior of the third and fourth floors were clearly ravaged by the flames but on the undamaged upper floors, dead bodies were found in hallways and rooms.
Hours after the fire was brought under control, firemen were still pulling bodies from the building.
The corpses 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 was heard saying as the couple were taken down.
The hotel's garage was turned into an impromptu morgue as the bodies were taken out and checked for identification.
In the absence of body bags, the deceased were wrapped in blankets or any other pieces of cloth that could be found. The bodies were later taken to a police camp where they were lined up in rows at a covered basketball court so relatives could try to identify them.
A huge blackboard was set up listing the dead who had been identified as well as the names of the injured.
The large number of victims who apparently died of suffocation immediately raised suspicions that the hotel had not provided sufficient safety measures such as water sprinklers, fire alarms, emergency lights and well-designated fire exits.
Survivor Abner Romano said in a radio interview that there were no emergency lights, no sprinklers and no warning bell. He said some of them only discovered the hotel was on fire when someone began banging on the doors of their rooms.
President Gloria Arroyo visited the hospital where some of the survivors were being treated and then went to the police camp where the bodies of the dead were taken.
"Thank God you survived," Arroyo was heard telling Ricardo Dumag, a man who escaped by jumping from one of the upper floors during the fire.
Fire marshal Ricardo Nemenze said that two months ago, an inspection had found that the hotel had breached certain safety regulations. The owners were given up to 30 days to rectify this but Nemenze did not say whether they took the required measures.
Nemenze also said that the installation of immovable metal bars on the windows was a violation of fire safety rules.
Rick Barcelona, a pastor of the God's Flock group, searched through the hospitals to see if his son was among the injured.
"I asked God, please don't take him yet. I need him because he is my successor in my ministry," Barcelona said in a television interview.
It was the worst fire in the Philippines since a blaze in a disco in 1996, also in Quezon City, killed about 160 people, most of them teenagers celebrating the end of the school year -- MANILA (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)