MANILA (AFP) - An inferno in one of Manila's huge shanty towns has killed nine people, authorities said on Friday (Dec 11), the third blaze to have struck the city's slums in as many weeks.
Residents grabbed clothes, furniture and appliances as they fled the burning Damayang Lagi shanty town shortly after midnight, survivor Arman Altoveros told AFP.
"The fire spread so fast, everything was gone in minutes," the 43-year-old rickshaw driver told AFP as he scavenged for charred pots and pans on burnt rubble that used to be his wife's small canteen.
The victims include a seven-year-old girl.
Flames and thick black smoke trapped her and the other eight people in their houses, said national fire bureau spokesman Superintendent Renato Marcial.
The blaze brings this year's fire-related death toll in the Philippines to 323, higher than the 228 figure for the whole of 2014, officials said.
The Damayang Lagi fire destroyed 50 houses, leaving an estimated 600 people homeless. Many of those affected by the fire lived in rented rooms in the maze of makeshift residential structures, the authorities said.
Fires routinely hit the slum, Marcial said.
"These slums are very high risk. At any time, there is potential for a fire," he told AFP.
"They overload their electric outlets with no regard for their safety. They also steal electricity, damaging power lines," he said.
Altoveros vowed to rebuild the two-storey, wood and tin shack he used to share with his wife and two teenage children.
A fire in 2009 razed an earlier structure they called home, but they did not leave Damayan Lagi because they did not own land.
"I don't know how long we'll be sleeping on the street, but we have no choice but to start again," he added.
Fires are common hazards in the sprawling capital, where millions live in hovels made of scrap wood and cardboard and fire safety regulations are rarely imposed.
Last week, 5,000 people were left homeless after a huge blaze gutted 500 tin-roofed huts in the city's old quarter. It also forced the temporary evacuation of 500 prisoners at a nearby jail.
In late November, about 800 homes went up in smoke in another Manila shanty town.
In May, 72 died when a fire tore through a Manila footwear factory. Survivors blamed the disaster on barred windows.