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Thousands Left Homeless After Blaze Razes Shantytown

April 29, 1988

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A wind-whipped fire raced through a shantytown Thursday, destroying the homes of thousands of poor people who desperately fought the flames with buckets of water.

Troops were sent to the area after residents, angry that firefighters were not saving their homes, pelted firetrucks with stones. The wood and cardboard shantytown had no fire hydrants and officials said the roads were too narrow for the trucks.

There was no immediate estimate of damage and the cause of the fire was under investigation. The city’s fire chief, Chief Brig. Gen. Ernesto Madriaga, said the blaze was ″possibly the biggest in Manila since World War II.″

Four people were injured, including three civilians and a fireman who was struck in the head by a water hose, Madriaga said.

Firefighters controlled the blaze at 7:30 p.m., 4 1/2 hours after it began in the capital’s crowded Pandacan district. Smoke blackened the skies over much of the city Thursday afternoon.

The fire threatened to spread to a government-owned petroleum compound, but did not reach it because of a change in the wind.

Hundreds of people huddled around collections of personal belongings, including refrigerators, furniture and televisions sets, on the sides of a narrow, mud-covered street separating the smoldering shantytown from the petroleum compound.

The fire broke out an hour after firefighters put out a blaze that gutted the top floor of the nine-story, 60-room San Carlos Apartment Hotel about two miles away.

No one was injured in that fire, which officials said began in an adjacent building under construction. The hotel’s manager said most of the 100 guests were out at the time.

The government-run Philippine News Agency said 3,000 families, or approximately 15,000 people, lost their homes in Pandacan, on the banks of the Pasig River about 1 1/2 miles from the presidential palace.

Madriaga estimated more than 1,000 dwellings in the 25-acre area were destroyed along with a candy factory warehouse.

Major oil companies such as Caltex, Shell and the government-owned Philippine National Oil Co. have storage tanks in the area.

Madriaga’s deputy, Col. Oscar Pascual, said the flames came within eight yards of the oil complex.

Firefighters said they could not use their firetrucks in the shantytown and they concentrated on preventing the fire from spreading to the oil depot.

Antonio Santos, operations manager of the depot, said the squatter area was ″too congested for even the best firefighters to have been able to battle the flames very well.″ He said water had to be pumped from hydrants within the oil compound.

Mary Bayani, 27, whose home was destroyed, said she was attending a Bible study class about 3 p.m. when she heard children shouting ″Fire, fire.″

After gathering her three small children, ″I saved our clothes and some kitchen utensils,″ she said. ″But we have no rice and no money.″

″We will stay here during the night,″ Mrs. Bayani added. ″But I don’t know what we will do tomorrow.″

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