Rescue workers continue search for dozens feared dead in Philippine factory fire

Police carrying a body bag containing a body of a victim as workers remove debris in a gutted slipper factory in Valenzuela, Metro Manila in the Philippines on May 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Police carrying a body bag containing a body of a victim as workers remove debris in a gutted slipper factory in Valenzuela, Metro Manila in the Philippines on May 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - Rescue workers carried corpses out of the charred remains of a footwear factory in the Philippine capital on Thursday as they searched for dozens of people missing following a huge fire.

Fourteen bodies had been hauled out of the two-storey factory in the industrial Manila district of Valenzuela by Thursday morning, local mayor Rex Gatchalian told AFP, adding 57 people were still considered missing.

"We don't expect survivors from those (trapped) inside the building but we are hoping some were able to jump out," he said. "We are doing this retrieval as fast as we can."

Firemen counted at least 28 dead bodies inside the factory before the search was called off on Wednesday night for safety reasons. It resumed at first light on Thursday morning. "They were lying side by side, but all I could see were their bones," Manila's fire marshal, Senior Superintendent Sergio Soriano, told AFP on Wednesday night.

The fire began just before noon on Wednesday, with sparks from welding equipment used to repair a broken gate believed to have caused the blaze when they ignited flammable chemicals stored nearby.

"The building was totally damaged, the roofs have caved in and portions of the second floor have collapsed," the city's fire marshal, Senior Superintendent Rico Kwantiu, told AFP.

Factory workers were believed to have been trapped on the second floor of the building, while only a few are believed to have escaped.

One of the survivors, Ms Janet Victoriano, who was near the front door when the blaze started, recounted sheer panic.

"Everyone scampered to try and find their way out," she told DZMM radio.

Factory-owner Kentex Manufacturing makes cheap slippers and sandals for the local market, using names such as "Havana" that sound like well-known global brands, company employees said.

Ms Victoriano signalled lax fire safety standards may have contributed to the high death toll.

"I had never been involved in a fire drill ever," said Ms Victoriano, who had worked at the factory for five years.

However, Valenzuela mayor Gatchalian said it was too early to point fingers.

"An investigation is ongoing right now. It will be unfair to assign liability at this point. We are looking at all angles. We will see to it that those who are liable will be punished," Mr Gatchalian told AFP.

The families of the missing anxiously awaited their kin's fate at a nearby village hall on Thursday.

In the worst fire in Manila in recent times, 162 people were killed in a huge blaze that gutted a Manila disco in 1996.