Philippine fireworks factory explosion kills at least 8, injures 70 more

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Map of Cavite showing the location of Trece Martires City, site of the explosion.

A powerful blast has razed a fireworks factory 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the Philippines capital Manila shortly before noon on Thursday, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 70 others, Cavite Governor Ayong Maliksi said.

Four of the eight fatalities have already been identified by factory officials. They are: Clodelio Iso, Rodelio Iso, Marlon Rodrin, Angelo Francisco and Gerardo Amparo. The fire was declared to be out at around 2:33 p.m. local time (UTC+8).

Most of the explosion victims were employees of the Starmaker Fireworks Factory (SFF) located in Barangay Conchu, Trece Martires City. They were rushed to the General Emilio Aguinaldo Memorial Hospital, Korean-Philippines Friendship Hospital, Treceno Medical Pavillion and Mark Jem Hospital, and are still being treated for third-degree burns and cuts from glass shards, said Ryan Lucero, acting area manager of SFF factory and the Office of the Civil Defense-Regional Disaster Coordinating Center.

Richard Rivera, SFF spokesman, said the firm meets "global security standards." Founded in 1995, the firm pioneered synchronized music and pyrotechnics, which it also exported to other countries. SFF has promised to extend aid to the blast victims. "The company is saddened over what happened," he said. The accidental fire sparked by the fireworks blast has spread to the nearby Yoshita corporation.

Several houses and a church near the fireworks factory were also damaged by the powerful blast which created several craters inside the factory's compound. One crater measured at least 200 meters wide. "It was really frightening. We scampered for safety because the ground was shaking and on fire. Then, body parts started flying around together with metal and wooden debris," said Juanito Salvatos, a gardener who was near the factory.

Some examples of consumer fireworks manufactured (by Starmaker Fireworks Factory in Conchu, Trece Martires City): Roman candles, rockets, artillery shells, rockets, artillery shell combo shot, a Roman candle-like combo shot, firecrackers, jumping jacks, nonlight-emitting effect fireworks, smoke balls, and some punks.

According to Cavite police Superintendent Reynaldo Galam, the mutilated bodies of two men and a woman were recovered outside the SFF compound near a residential area in Trece Martires city. Jonathan Seramillo, Cavite NBI medico legal officer, said a commercial area, including the Cavite Provincial Capitol, suffered damages even both are one kilometer away from the explosion site, while 2 vehicles were also damaged.

"The 10:45 a.m. explosion inside the half hectare SFF pyrotechnics compound was so loud that it was heard as far as 500 meters away from the scene of the blast," said Galam. "The explosion was so powerful that it broke window panes even at the municipal hall more than a kilometer away,” said Mayor Melencio de Sagun Jr. The explosion has also caused part of the factory roof to land more than 1.5km (1 mile) away, and toppled concrete walls.

Sagun Jr. has cited reports that "the incident stemmed from a test of fireworks that went awry," adding that the fireworks were to be delivered to the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City. "The one who tested it violated a rule barring testing inside the compound," he added, and explained that the factory is inside an industrial zone. The blast has also shattered the glass of two adjacent semi-conductor plants, injuring some of the employees.

"Shockwaves shattered windows and toppled concrete fences of nearby homes, knocking out electricity and raining down unexploded fireworks in the area," said Army Col. Romeo Ucag, who assisted in putting out the blaze, adding, "he heard the explosion and saw a thick column of smoke from his post in Tanza, Cavite, six miles (10 kilometers) north of Trece Martires."

Amid thick black smoke enveloping the fireworks factory three hours after the explosion, human body parts have scattered meters away from the fireworks factory. "There are body parts scattered outside," said Galam, adding that "police and health officials were trying to account for the estimated 100 staff." According to Senior Superintendent Hernando Zafra, director of the Cavite provincial police, "they could not yet determine the cause of the explosion, which was heard by people three kilometers away from the site."

Authorities have also continued to sift through the rubble of the explosion. Zafra has said most of the victims could not be identified because their bodies have been dismembered and charred beyond recognition. Earlier, he has counted 43 people inside the factory being treated for injuries. Zafra has further noted that police arson investigators and National Bureau of Investigation officials are on the site to probe the cause of the explosion. Frederick Bragas of the OCD-RDCC 4-A said "forensic experts are now determining the identities of the fatalities."