Death toll in Valenzuela fire climbs to 72

DEADLY BLAZE. Policemen carry a body in a body bag following a fire at a footwear factory in Valenzuela city on May 14. Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA

DEADLY BLAZE. Policemen carry a body in a body bag following a fire at a footwear factory in Valenzuela city on May 14.

Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The death toll in the fire that engulfed a footwear factory in Valenzuela City has climbed to 72, authorities said on Thursday, May 14.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who visited the site early Thursday afternoon, announced that there are 72 confirmed dead. He said there may be more casualties as several others remain missing after a blaze swept through Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in Barangay Ugong on Wednesday.

Talking to reporters at the site, Roxas said that aside from financial assistance, what the government can do for the families of the casualties is to ensure a thorough investigation so that those who are responsible would be held accountable. (READ: We'll make culprits pay for Valenzuela deaths)

"Ang magagawa ko para sa kanilang mga naulila, ay alamin kung ano ang nangyari at panagutin ang mga kailangang managot (What I can do for those who were left behind is to determine what really happened and to hold accountable those who are at fault)," he said.

Roxas said the investigation will not only include the factory owners but also the plant manager and agencies that issued permits to the facility.

Roxas, who condoled with the families, said all the proper agencies are in "full force" to "comb through" the site to gather evidence that would provide a full picture of the incident. 

'Beyond recognition'

PNP Officer-in-Charge Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said in a news briefing with Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian earlier that day that someone will definitely be charged over the incident, as there were deaths.

"Someone will definitely be charged because of the deaths. It doesn't matter if it's an accident, people died. Right now, we are investigating to clearly define what happened. For sure, someone will be charged," Espina said.

He added that "many of those retrieved were reduced to skulls and bones."

The PNP OIC also said that the PNP has fielded more SOCO  forensic examiners to assist the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in the retrieval operations. There are now 40 PNP SOCO personnel at the scene. 

The victims' families were brought to the Maysan Barangay Hall to help authorities identify the bodies retrieved from the site.

Speaking to the grieving families, Gatchalian said the bodies "have been burnt beyond recognition" and that identifying them by visual inspection was "impossible."

The families were asked to fill out a profile of their family members describing their height, gender, teeth, body marks, and other identifying physical marks.

Secure evidence

Gatchalian said that there are 30 people injured from the fire, but added that this number is based on those who have approached city officials.

The Valenzuela City Police Station has deployed more police personnel in the area to prevent looting and preserve evidence at the crime scene.

The official death toll would be announced once authorities recover all the bodies inside the building, mostly at the second floor where the assembly area is located.

Gatchalian and the BFP earlier said that based on initial reports, people at the second floor were unable to escape because of the extreme heat and the thick smoke emanating from the ground floor.

The fire that gutted the slipper factory was first reported to the city fire station at 11:23 am on Wednesday. The fire was declared under control several hours later, at 4:11 pm.

Officials said the fire was caused by sparks from a welding activity on the factory's gate, setting nearby containers of chemicals on fire.  Rappler.com