Babies die in Manila inferno

AT LEAST 28 people, many of them babies and young children, were burnt to death in Manila yesterday in a fire at one of the city's slum orphanages.

Six adults and twenty-two children were confirmed dead after being trapped in the upper floors of the three-storey Associacion de Damas de Pilipinas orphanage, which burnt down yesterday morning in the Paco district of Manila.

Throughout the day, firemen and rescue workers carried small bundles of remains from the ruins of the 78-year-old building. Many of the bodies were beyond recognition and two children were still unaccounted for last night.

The bodies of 13 children were found huddled together in a single room and near by was the body of an adult who appeared to have been trying to protect two other children.

"I heard babies crying at one end of the building but we could not reach them because the flames were spreading rapidly and we could not stand the heat," said Tobias Ronan, who worked at the orphanage.

Party decorations lay strewn around the ruins of the building, in preparation for the orphanage's Christmas party, which was to have been held today. Most of the 43 survivors were sleeping on the ground floor, but those above were trapped behind locked windows after the fire took hold of the stairs.

"I was sleeping on the ground floor when I was woken up,'' said Carina Bellosillo, a teacher. "Already, the ceiling was on fire and the stairs going up to the second floor were burning. I wanted to go upstairs to save the babies, but my companions pulled me back." Another teacher said: "I was able to get eight children out from one of the rooms but three others were left behind. I don't know what happened to them."

Some of the dead appear to have been trapped by locked doors. City officials announced an investigation after reports that the fire brigade took an hour to reach the scene. Members of the Manila police arson unit said the fire appeared to have been caused by faulty electrical wiring.

The President, Joseph Estrada, visited the disaster scene. "I will raise funds personally," he said. "I will do everything I can to rebuild this place."

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