The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) confirmed Thursday that at least 72 factory workers died in a fire that razed a slippers factory in Valenzuela City before noon Wednesday.
Firemen and police retrieved 58 bodies in the ruins of the Kentex Manufacturing Inc. warehouse on Tatalon Street, Barangay Ugong. Thirteen others have yet to be extracted from the debris.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said the charred bodies were taken to a morgue near Maysan Barangay Hall for forensic processing and identification by the police.
Gatchalian said only three of the recovered dead bodies were identified since all the remaining victims were burned beyond recognition. The three were identified as Leah Ballesteros, Josie Tee and Tristan Ong King, said to be the son of one of the factory owners.
Gatchalian said the local government will extend aid to the victims of the fire, including the hospital bills incurred by more than 30 survivors in different hospitals and burial expenses of the deceased.
He said the Family Help Desk was organized by the local government in Barangay Maysan to assist and provide trauma counseling for the grieving families.
The mayor added it was too early to point fingers and they will wait for the results of the investigation but assured the public that those liable for the tragedy will be punished.
Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina, who was at the same conference, said the police would help the BFP to trace who would be charged with negligence and to find out if the National Building Code was violated.
“Someone will he held accountable for the death of the workers, be it accidental or deliberate. We have yet to determine what actually happened so that we will be able to clearly define what case should be filed,” Espina said.
Initial reports said welding sparks ignited a chemical substance that created a ball of fire that spread quickly to the nearby building where some 200 workers were.
The City Fire District head of Valenzuela City has been relieved pending an investigation of the fire.
Espina has ordered the fielding of 40 forensic experts personnel at the fire scene to assist the BFP in retrieving and identifying the charred bodies.
Forty other police personnel were fielded in the area to prevent looting and to preserve evidence at the scene.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who visited the scene Thursday, said he has ordered the agencies under his department to conduct a thorough investigation to determine why 72 people were trapped inside the factory.
‘’This is extraordinary. Seventy two died. Why were 69 of the 72 fatalities on the second floor? Why were they trapped there?” Roxas asked.
In the Palace, a presidential spokesman said they had been informed by Labor Secretary Rosalida Baldoz that the factory was assessed to have been compliant with occupational safety requirements as of September 2014.
According to the Labor Department, Kentex is a unionized company, with an existing safety committee. Its workers are entitled to government-mandated social security and workmen’s compensation benefits, Coloma said.
Both the Palace and the Labor Department expressed sympathy for the families of the victims.
Baldoz also said her department would ensure that the victims and their families receive social and labor justice.
The families of each of the worker who died in the tragedy will receive P20,000 in funeral benefit and death pension benefit, depending on the worker’s last salary, from the Social Security System.
Survivors who need to be hospitalized will be entitled to medical or hospital benefits and sickness benefit of up to 120 days at a maximum of P200 per day.
Those who were injured are also entitled to free rehabilitation, and as may be necessary, prosthesis. - With Francisco Tuyay, Sandy Araneta and Vito Barcelo
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