By Martin A. Sadongdong, Analou De Vera, and Hans Amancio
Firefighters braved thick smoke and searing heat to rescue dozens of trapped people inside a smoldering casino hotel in Manila yesterday, but three of those rescued did not reach a nearby hospital alive.
The fire was believed to have started in the casino area of the Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino at the corner of United Nations Avenue and Maria Orosa Street in Ermita.
Quickly, the hotel was covered with thick black smoke as employees and guests scampered out to safety. Fourteen have been reported injured.
At least 300 guests were inside the hotel when the fire struck.
A handful climbed on top of the 22-story hotel and was later picked up by a helicopter from Pure Force.
Several guests escaped through scaffolding used by workers for the renovation of the 50-year-old hotel.
A guest was seen waving his bloodied hand after smashing the window of his room. Firefighters were immediately dispatched to rescue him.
At press time, rescuers were using heavy equipment to break down walls and free 19 persons believed trapped at the fifth floor of the hotel.
Superintendent Jonas Silvano, District Fire Marshal of Manila-Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), said the fire started at 9:52 a.m. at the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) area that is under renovation.
The blaze spread up to the fourth floor as firefighters battled strong winds and thick smoke to get it under control.
The smoke could be sensed as far as the LRT Line 1’s UN Station on Taft Avenue. Air-conditioning of a passing train was switched off as it stopped at the station, but was switched on after reaching the Central Station, a commuter reported.
Johnny Gaw Yu of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO) identified two of the fatalities as Jun Evangelista, treasury officer; and Billy de Castro, intern security officer, both PAGCOR employees.
Later, PAGCOR Assistant Vice President for Corporate Communications Carmelita Valdez identified the third fatality as Marlyn Omadto, assistant treasury officer.
President Duterte, on board the presidential chopper, conducted his own aerial inspection of the burning building.
He had just attended the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Alab-Tala Class of 2018 graduation rites in Baguio City when he decided to look into the situation as shown in photos shared on social media by Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go.
Duterte was seen sitting beside Go inside the chopper flying over the burning hotel building.
Authorities initially reported that four died, but doctors managed to revive a female victim who nevertheless remains in critical condition at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital.
A total of 36 fire trucks and 23 ambulances were dispatched to fight the fire that engulfed the 400-room hotel.
PAGCOR’s Valdez assured the families of the victims that they would be getting help from the agency.
She said the three Pagcor employees must have been trapped after ensuring that all the Pagcor properties inside the room were secured and all accounted for before leaving, without realizing the severity of the fire. (With a report from Argyll B. Geducos)