A fire tore through a budget hotel, rousing some guests and trapping others in upper floor bathrooms in the northern Philippines. Many of the 15 dead and 12 injured were nursing students in town to take a licensing exam, police said.
Some firefighters wept and prayed as they retrieved badly burned bodies. Grieving relatives converged at a morgue where remains of victims, 14 burned beyond recognition, were brought. Some fainted as body bags were brought into a funeral parlor.
"Their families spent fortunes to send these children to school only to see them end that way," fire investigator Daniel Abana said.
The fire raged for eight hours early Sunday and gutted the five-story Bed and Breakfast Pension House in Cagayan province's capital of Tuguegarao city.
Dozens of guests, roused by the commotion, were rescued by firefighters and police or reached safety on their own, Abana said.
Many of the dead had crammed in bathrooms on the top two floors. One victim had a foot stuck out of a window in a desperate attempt to survive, he said.
At least 12 nursing students were taken to hospitals with minor burns. The building was still smoldering when firefighters broke in and scrambled to search for the 15 victims, police said.
"It's so close to Christmas, we wept when we saw their bodies," Abana told The Associated Press by telephone.
A nursing college instructor, Romeo Opido, told police that about 36 nursing students were at the hotel. At least 27 escaped and 9 were missing, he said before the bodies were discovered.
The dead included three children who may have been members of the family that owned the hotel and who stayed in some of its rooms, Abana said.
Tuguegarao is about 215 miles (350 kilometers) north of Manila.