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Thousands Homeless After Manila Predawn Fire

Thousands of families were left homeless on Tuesday after a large fire swept through a shanty community in downtown Manila, burning down houses made of light materials.

Authorities said the fire broke out on Monday night and lasted for more than 12 hours as it quickly swept through the neighborhood.

No casualties were reported.

Some residents on Tuesday returned to their burnt homes and tried to salvage what was left of their belongings.

“When I looked outside, I saw people running and I could see a huge [cloud of] smoke. I thought the fire would not reach us since it looked to be far away, but it did. I did not expect it to reach here. That's why I immediately ran away without bringing anything. The most important thing on my mind was the safety of my wife and child,” said carpenter Salvador Panacalagos as he picked out metal scraps from the ash surrounding his burnt home in the hope they would fetch money to help him rebuild.

The Philippine Social Welfare Department said over 10,000 families were displaced by the overnight fire, and close to 5,000 families were staying at evacuation centers around downtown Manila.

Evacuee Julia Abrigo, 63, who jumped into a nearby river with her family to escape the blaze, appealed for aid.

“We need help. We have nowhere to sleep and nowhere to go. Everything has gone. I do not have anything except some clothes I saved for my child,” she said.

Social workers at one of the evacuation centers in the capital city were seen handing out bowls of porridge to men, women and children sheltering in what is normally a covered gymnasium.

“We will provide them with food, blankets, mats and everything they may need, and we are also coordinating with other NGOs, other government agencies, for the sake of the fire victims,” said Nilda Del Rosario from Manila's Social Welfare Department.

Over 615 fire incidents have been reported in Manila since January 2015, with most of the cases reported due to faulty electrical wiring in Manila's slum communities which is usually caused by illegal power connections, the Bureau of Fire Protection said.

The Philippines has declared March a “Fire Prevention Month”, hoping to curb the rising cases of fire-related incidents during the summer season.