Manila, May 14: Seventy-two people died in a huge blaze at a footwear factory in the Philippine capital, authorities said on Thursday, as angry relatives and workers described sweatshop conditions including dismal fire safety standards.
Firefighters and police pulled dozens of corpses out of the ruins of the two-storey building today, a day after the blaze trapped the terrified workers with apparently few exits and no fire safety training.
"Many of those retrieved were reduced to skulls and bones," national police chief Leonardo Espina said during an emotional press conference, as local authorities confirmed 72 people had died.
"Someone will definitely be charged because of the deaths. It doesn't matter if it's an accident, people died. Right now, we are investigating to clearly define what happened. For sure, someone will be charged."
Sparks from welding equipment used to repair a broken gate are believed to have caused the fire when they ignited flammable chemicals stored nearby.
By early afternoon, 72 bodies had been pulled from the gutted building, Valenzuela mayor Rex Gatchalian told AFP. He said he believed this would be close to the final death toll, as the figure matched the number of people missing.
The building, among a long row of factories in the rundown district of Valenzuela on the northern edge of the Philippine capital, made cheap slippers and sandals for the local market.
The footwear had names such as "Havana" that sound like well-known global brands, company employees said.