GENERAL TRIAS, Cavite—At least 126 people, including at least two Japanese, were injured after a fire that raged for more than 18 hours starting Wednesday night hit a three-story factory at the Cavite Export Processing Zone here, local officials said.
Firetrucks had been going in and out of the area here on Thursday afternoon, as efforts continued to put out the fire at the Japanese-owned House Technology Industries (HTI).
Cavite Gov. Jesus Crispin Remulla said the fire was under control but had not been fully extinguished past noon Thursday.
Reports said hundreds of workers were preparing for the next shift at 6 p.m. on Wednesday when the fire broke out.
A female production operator, working from an adjacent building of HTI, remembered hearing an explosion that was followed by thick smoke.
The next thing she knew was that they were being told to evacuate.
“We could see that huge smoke,” said the worker, who declined to be identified as they were not allowed to speak to reporters. “Then there were people jumping out of the [burning] building,” she said.
Remulla said that of the 126 people injured, four were in critical condition in different hospitals on Thursday.
Charito Plaza, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) director general, said three were confirmed missing, while 32 others were being located either in hospitals or in their homes.
Remulla said firefighters hoped to enter and inspect the factory later on Thursday.
Officials from the Cavite provincial government and Peza, in separate media briefings, said the fire started inside the building’s insulation room, which they described as similar to a mezzanine and situated between the ground and second floors.
Remulla said a machine must have caused the spark that started the fire.
The fire quickly spread inside the facility that kept mostly treated wood and other materials used in making bathroom fixtures, kitchen assembly, tiles and boards.
HTI, one of five subsidiaries of the House Research and Development (HRD) Group of Companies, manufactures pre-fabricated houses made to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis and in Japan.
HRD has been occupying 88 hectares inside the economic zone since 1996. It has about 15,000 workers, making it Cavite’s biggest employer, Remulla said.
“Every start of the shift, we are called in for a meeting about safety hazards,” said another male worker.
There were usually about 2,500 to 2,800 people per shift, but Plaza said most of those timing in for the night shift were no longer able to enter the building.
Officials, however, could not give a figure as to how many people were actually inside the building when it caught fire.
“This is the worst fire that ever happened in our economic zones,” Plaza said.
Quoting the management, Plaza said the company lost more than P10 billion to the fire.
Antonia Caviteña, 39, was among those who suffered severe burns, said her sister, Jovelyn Pelaez.
About 90 percent of Caviteña’s body was burned and her hair had to be shaved. She remained in critical condition at the Divine Grace Medical Center here.
Caviteña is a line operator in the factory. “She stayed behind to let her [subordinates] go out of the building first,” Pelaez said.
Remulla said most of those badly hurt were line leaders as they were the last to leave the burning building.
“She went through that fire and suffered fourth to fifth degree burns in the arm and face. She could not open her eyes and we could not even recognize her,” said Aida Alo of her niece, Angel Gabisan.
Gabisan, 21, and a mother of a four-month old baby, is HTI’s security officer.
“She was working hard for her child in Davao and this happened to her,” Alo said.
She said they feared that Gabisan might go blind.
Preparing for worst
“We cannot conclude [if there were fatalities] until the fire is out. But we are preparing for the worst,” Remulla said.
He said crime scene investigators were on stand by to check whether there were people trapped inside the building.
But among those badly injured were two Japanese executives, one of them 66-year-old Tushimitsu Endo, who had to jump out of the 9-meter high building to escape the fire.
A report from the Cavite police named the other Japanese victim as technical supervisor Nahgae Hideki, 44. The foreigners were taken to the General Trias Pediatric Hospital.
The Philippine Red Cross sent rescue and welfare teams, vehicles and equipment to assist the fire victims. —WITH REPORTS FROM JODEE A. AGONCILLO AND AP