MANILA: At least seven people were killed and thousands left homeless as two fires struck the Philippine capital on Christmas Day, sparking riots as a slum went up in flames, Manila's fire marshal said Tuesday.
Six bodies were recovered and two other people were missing as a blaze erupted at dawn in a row of old apartments in the Baler section of northern Manila, said Chief Superintendent Santiago Laguna.
Suspected arsonists meanwhile set off a second blaze at a sprawling shantytown across the city, sparking rioting that left one man dead and two others arrested, he said in an interview that aired over DZBB radio.
“They (residents) started grabbing hoses from our firefighters, who could not do anything as they feared for their own safety,” Laguna said.
A man was beaten up and later died from his injuries in the melee as the blaze consumed the shantytown in the San Juan district, he added.
“They mistook him for a fireman,” he said of the victim, adding two suspected rioters were also arrested.
Laguna said residents were apparently infuriated by the delayed arrival of firefighters and took it upon themselves to grab firehoses to aim at their blazing shanties.
However he said the residents were themselves to blame.
“Our firetrucks had difficulty entering the narrow streets that were blocked by parked cars and carts,” he said.
“Our firefighters had to drag the hoses into the alleys, where they were attacked.”
The shantytown blaze left some 2,000 families homeless, he said, a figure that equates to at least 8,000 people.
An AFP photographer on the scene saw hundreds of homeless survivors huddled on the floor of two basketball courts nearby.
Laguna said the cause of the apartment blaze was under investigation, though he added electrical circuits had probably overloaded from increased use during Christmas Eve parties across the metropolis of 14 million people.