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Fire Burns Philippines Hospital

May 16, 1998

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A fire swept through a suburban Manilla hospital before dawn Saturday, killing at least eight people. Fourteen others trapped in intensive care units were also presumed dead, doctors said.

The fire was still burning at the Lung Center of the Philippines more than 11 hours after it started, engulfing much of the hospital in thick smoke and flames.The flames also spread to a ward of the adjoining National Kidney and Transplant Institute, forcing an evacuation of that hospital as well.

Lung Center head of medical services Fernando Melendrez said firefighters were trying to reach the intensive care units but were blocked by heavy smoke, heat and burning debris.

``It was very hot and the smoke was very thick. No one could survive that place,″ he said.

Rescuers said they would need to wait for the area to cool before they could enter.

A total of 170 patients plus an undetermined number of relatives were in the three-story hospital when the fire broke out, officials said. The building, completed in 1982 under the direction of former first lady Imelda Marcos, had no sprinkler system or fire hydrants.

Joselito Calalay, a relative of a patient who was on the ground floor when the fire began, said someone rushed down from the second floor shouting ``Fire,″ and people started to panic. The electricity then went off and smoke began to fill the area, he said.

He said some hospital staff were among the first to leave the building.

The hospital’s chief of security, Raul Caberte, said the fire began in the crawl space above the lobby’s ceiling.

``We had fire extinguishers but they were useless because we couldn’t find the actual fire″ inside the ceiling, he said.

At least four of the victims had been on respirators, which failed when the fire caused an electrical crash, Health Secretary Carmencita Reodica said.

At the kidney institute, flames and smoke forced the evacuation of 54 of the 123 patients to a parking lot, some with intravenous lines still dangling from their arms. The remaining patients were taken to the lobby, hospital director Eileen Javier said.

At least five patients jumped from the second floor to a palm tree and slid down to safety.

``I didn’t think I would survive for my kidney operation next week,″ said Teddy Teodoro, one of the five.

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