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Valenzuela fire: Blasts shook the ground; witness saw victims trapped on 2nd floor

Delilah Garcia, a resident of Brgy. Ugong in Valenzuela City who lost seven relatives in the slippers factory fire on Wednesday, said she and her neighbors heard three loud explosions strong enough to make their houses and the ground beneath their feet shake.
In an interview with GMA News Online on Thursday, Garcia likened the blasts to something stronger than a grenade explosion.
“Naririnig po namin. Parang tunog ng gas [tank nung simula 'yung sumabog]. Yumayanig 'yung lupa. Tatlong beses lang sumabog pero malakas talaga,” Garcia said.
“Mas malakas pa sa granada, parang lumindol pa sa tabi ko kahit nasa second floor ako umalog 'yung bintana,” she continued.
Garcia and her neighbors rushed out of their homes to find out what was happening. She said that in minutes, the slippers factory was engulfed in flames. 
Witnesses said the fire started after sparks from welding activities ignited flammable chemicals.

At least 72 charred bodies have been recovered by authorities. Sixty-nine sets of victims' remains were found clustered on the factory's second floor.
Garcia said she saw white smoke coming from the factory immediately after the explosions, then flames started to rage after a few minutes.
She recalled seeing people trapped on the second floor. The windows on the second floor had screens and metal bars.
“Yung mga tao makikita pang kumakaway doon sa taas, humihingi sila ng tulong pero ang bilis kumalat ng apoy,” she said.
According to her, the owner of the factory whom she only identified as Mr. Ang, also lost his son during the incident.
Garcia said the local government has been providing food for the families of the victims. She also said the victim's families were promised financial assistance.

Mercelita Gomez, a former worker in the factory who lost her sister in the fire, said she never noticed if her former workplace had fire exits or proper fire safety warnings.
“Di ko na iniisip 'yun, basta iniisip ko mahirap ang buhay kailangan kumita ng pera,” Gomez said.
Gomez also said workers were stationed on the ground floor when she was an employee, but the workers were now stationed on the second floor.
Gomez said there were a variety of workers in the factory, mostly women who were stationed at the assembly line of the conveyor belt for slippers. Some were assigned to paint the products while others cleaned the slippers' straps.

69 charred remains

Sixty-nine victims of the slipper factory fire died on the second floor of the factory's older building because that was the farthest they could get away from the flames, a fire investigator said in a report on GMA-7's "24 Oras" on Thursday.
"Ang heat source po kasi natin at ang start ng fire natin is from this area, sa unahan po, sa ground. Normally, ang tao, you will get away from the heat. So, tatakbo ka sa likod," Fire Chief Inspector Romeo Pepito Jr. said.  Pepito, of the Bureau of Fire Protection Investigation and Intelligence Division, said he led the investigation of the Ozone Disco Fire in March 1996.
"Siyempre, tumakbo po sila sa likod. Doon po sila naipon," he said. 
Witnesses, survivors, and fire investigators said the windows of the second floor were barred with grills and chicken wire, preventing the victims from fleeing to safety outside the building. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition. 
Survivor Jobert Canillo said the building had only two fire exits.
"Dalawa lang, 'yung dito, tapos 'yung sa harap... Nakalabas (kami), pero na-stuck kami sa may gate. Na-stuck kami dito, hinintay pa namin na mabuksan 'yung gate kasi 'di namin masira 'yung lock... Nila-lock kasi ng guard 'yun," Canillo said.

Contractors welding near chemicals

Survivors said they first saw smoke coming from near the factory's roll-up doors, which were under repair at the time of the incident.
"Napansin namin na yung pumapatak na welding, kumakalat pagbagsak, tumatama dun sa retaso ng tsinelas at sa sako ng tinatawag nilang blowing agent o chemical," worker Michael Lasarte said.
Workers attempted to douse the fire with water, but they could not put out the fire.
Lasarte said the two men repairing the doors were unfamiliar with the factory as they started working there only last Monday.
"Sabi nga nung contractor na gumagawa sa pinto, nagmura pa nga siya, 'Walang hiya ka, bakit 'di niyo sinasabing may kemikal pala diyan?'," Lasarte recalled.  — Trisha Macas and Rie Takumi/ ELR, GMA News