MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A ferry carrying about 290 people caught fire in the central Philippines on Thursday, killing 15 people and injuring at least 70 others, officials said.

At least 220 people were rescued from the MV Maria Carmela after the blaze broke out at about 7 a.m., some 11 nautical miles from the port city of Lucena, the coast guard said. Search-and-rescue operations were under way. The ferry was carrying an estimated 243 passengers and 47 crew members.

Local radio dzMM quoted survivors as saying the fire started with an explosion in the cargo hold and spread quickly. Survivor Juanito Capareno said passengers stampeded and jostled for life jackets.

Aerial television footage showed the badly burned ferry, flames flickering from its windows, listing to one side. It was being towed by its sister ship, the MV Maria Teresa, to Lucena.

Quezon Memorial Hospital in Lucena City reported it received 70 people with various injuries.

The 680-ton ship, designed to carry about 326 passengers plus vehicles, had left the island of Masbate about 11 hours earlier and was been about an hour from Lucena, in Quezon province, about 70 miles southeast of Manila.

Coast guard commander Vice Adm. Reuben Lista said the ship had not been overloaded.