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Negligence Charges Filed Against Philippine Hotel Owner in Fatal Fire - 2001-08-20

Authorities in the Philippines say they are filing criminal charges against the owner of a hotel in Manila that was the scene of a deadly fire, two days ago. Saturday's pre-dawn blaze killed 75 people and injured about 50 others.

Manila Fire Marshall Romeo Villafuerte told reporters Monday charges of negligence leading to multiple death are being filed against the owner of the Manor Hotel, in northern Manila's Quezon City.

Rescue workers say most of the victims died from suffocation, after becoming trapped in their rooms by heavy smoke. The hotel had been cited a year ago for a lack of fire alarms and fire extinguishers and for blocked emergency exits.

Interior Secretary Joey Lina Monday told VOA that building and fire officials who allowed the hotel to remain open, despite the violations, might also be charged. "We have to get some documents, like building permits, occupancy permits, find out who issued them, find out what happened to the deficiencies and why were they not corrected," he said. "That's part of the investigation that has not yet been completed."

The fire started before dawn Saturday, reportedly because of an electrical short-circuit above a third-floor storeroom. The smoldering wires sent heavy smoke into the upper floors, trapping many guests in their rooms. Anti-burglar bars prevented people from escaping through the windows and locked emergency exits blocked others from safety.

Many of the victims had come to the modestly-priced hotel from the Philippine provinces to attend services by a U.S.-based evangelical church group. A number of children were killed in the blaze.

It was the worst fire disaster in the Philippines since more than 160 people - mostly teenagers - were killed in a blaze at a Manila discotheque, five years ago.