The death toll in a rubber slipper factory fire in a suburb of the Philippine capital climbed to 18 on Thursday after police retrieved another 15 charred bodies from the gutted building, but dozens more remain missing and feared dead, officials said.
At least 65 have been listed as missing inside the Kentex Manufacturing Corp. factory in Valenzuela city north of Manila, said Mayor Rex Gatchalian. Three bodies were recovered shortly after the blaze was put under control Wednesday when officials said that at least 31 people had died.
"The (police forensic officers) will do all they can to identify the victims because they are totally burned," said Eduardo Nazar, village council chief of Ugong where the factory is located.
The fire in Valenzuela city, north of the Philippine capital, killed at least 18 people, according to government and fire officials However, relatives of factory workers reported 65 people missing. Mayor Rex Gatchalian said some of those listed as missing might have been able to escape.
District Fire Marshal Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu said he was among the first to reach the second floor of the gutted building and saw “numerous bodies,” many charred beyond recognition.
Radio reports quoted relatives as saying their kin were able to send text messages from the second floor, but contact was lost shortly after.
Gatchalian said the fire was apparently ignited by sparks from welding work at the factory's main entrance door that triggered an explosion of the chemicals used to make the slippers.
Workers fled to the second floor where they were trapped, he said. It was unclear if the building had fire escapes. Gatchalian said some of those who escaped exited through back doors.
“By the time they realized that they could pass through the main door, the flames were already engulfing the front area,” he said, adding that they thought the second floor was the safer ground.
Tiu, the fire marshal, said the building had exits but apparently the workers were overwhelmed by the thick black smoke from the burning rubber and chemicals, which are highly flammable and caused the blaze to spread quickly.
Addressing a crowd outside the factory compound, Gatchalian appealed to families of the missing to try to reach the workers in homes of other relatives. “There might still be a chance” that they survived, he said.
“I was talking to the bureau of fire protection and they said no one in the building survived,” he said. His statement was followed by howls of grief and weeping.
Local news reports said it took fire crews five hours to control the blaze and that there were still flames burning into Wednesday evening.