TACLOBAN CITY—Seven survivors of super typhoon Yolanda, including a four-month-old baby, died Wednesday after a fire engulfed their tent in Tacloban City.
The fire, caused by a kerosene lamp, consumed the victims’ canvas tent and killed Maria Elisa Ocenar, 38, and five of her children Wednesday morning. Her sixth child died in the hospital later in the afternoon.
The victims all lived in the “Tent City” in Costa Brava, San Jose, and their death highlighted the fact that thousands of typhoon victims are still to be resettled almost seven months after Yolanda devastated Eastern Visayas, killed over 8,000 people and displaced 4 million others.
Fire officer Alvin Duran identified the fatalities as Maria Elisa Ocenar, 38; her children Kathlyn Ocenar, 11; Jasmine Ocenar, 3; Justine Ocenar, 10; Jovilyn Ocenar, 5; and her two-month old baby who was yet to be baptized.
John Mark Ocenar, 6, was taken to the Eastern visayas Regional Medical Center in the city after sustaining third-degree burns.
“It was a miracle that the boy survived,” Duran said, not knowing that the boy would die later.
Mary Grace Golondrina, a cousin of the children, appealed to the government to expedite the construction of permanent houses for the typhoon victims.
She said Renante Ocenar, her cousins’ father, a fisherman, was in Samar when the incident happened.
“He goes home only once a week,” she said.
Duran said the fire started around 12:10 am and lasted only a few minutes.
“The tent owned by the family was made of canvas given by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees when the family was left homeless after super typhoon Yolanda destroyed their house on November 8 last year,” Duran said.
“When we arrived the tent was already completely burned down. They must have been trapped inside.”
Duran said the neighbors ran toward the tent with pails of water to put out the fire, but to no avail.
“It happened so fast,” Romeo Dela Torre, a neighbor, said.
“When I was awakened I hurriedly went outside. The same with my neighbors. Everyone brought a pail of water to douse the fire, but it was just so fast.
“I hope the government will look at our condition seriously. This should not happen again.”
Raymund Solaya, 13, a friend of Justine’s, said he felt sorry for the family.
“Justine was my playmate,” Solaya said.
“He once told me he wanted to be a policeman someday. Now he is gone.”
Efleda Bautista, a convenor of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon victims, slammed the government over the incident.
“Are they that callous and insensitive that they only move when people die?” she said.
“It’s almost seven months after Yolanda’s wrath yet thousands of families are still living in tent cities and schools.”
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the incident saddened him.
“My heart and prayers go out to all the victims,” he said.
“It is shocking news that after they lost their homes last November, now they lost their lives. This is very painful.”
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez felt the same.
“It is very sad that six of the victims who were initially rescued have died,” he said.
“I hope this will serve as a wake-up call to the concerned government agencies to please expedite the construction of permanent decent housing for Yolanda’s victims.”
Rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson said Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman had already sent people to respond to the incident.
“We already had an agreement with the DSWD three weeks ago to start dismantling the tents and transfer those living in the tents to transitional shelters in the meantime that permanent shelters are being made available,” he said.
The Interior Department urged Tacloban City’s officials to extend all possible assistance to the fire victims and to coordinate with Social Welfare.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas III said he had tasked the Bureau of Fire Protection to be more vigilant.
“My family joins the government in mourning the fatalities in this tragedy,” he said. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Rio N. Araja
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