MALACANANG, January 13, 2004
(OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY) Government relief and rehabilitation efforts are in full swing for some 4, 500 families left homeless by a fire that gutted their community at the Baseco Compound in Port Area, Tondo, Manila early Monday morning.

Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita, concurrent chief of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), reported to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that eight evacuation centers have so far been set up for the displaced families.

The centers are located at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) compound, on a basketball court in the area, at the Iglesia ni Kristo compound, at the premises of the Pulang Lupa Elementary School, Barangay Hall 649, the Tambakan Center and in an old warehouse.

Ermita said more evacuation facilities might be put up as the need arises.

Meanwhile, registration of the affected families are still underway.

Arson investigators of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), assisted by elements of the Office of Civil Defense-NDCC, are also busy assessing the extent of damage.

Ermita said that at least 27 fire trucks of the BFP and various volunteer fire brigades around Metro Manila responded to the fire, believed set off by a liquefied petroleum gas task explosion.

The 51st Engineering Brigade of the Army, Ermita said, also deployed 11 enlisted personnel and officers, 19 trainees with rescue equipment and tents. The NDCC dispatched a rescue van, one tower light, 12 portalets, three cargo trucks, one Isuzu Elf truck and one Tamaraw FX van.

The fire was tapped in at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday and was reported under control six hours later.

GMA visits fire scene in Tondo, orders DSWD, HUDCC to coordinate efforts in rebuilding area

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rushed to the fire scene at Baseco compound in Tondo, Manila, early today to see the extent of damage and coordinate government efforts in helping the thousands of victims.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye, Jr. told a radio interview this morning that the health of affected residents, particularly children, is the primary concern of the government in the ongoing relief efforts. Today’s pre-dawn fire was the third to hit the Baseco compound in a year’s time.

The President has ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) to coordinate with the City of Manila, in preparing a long-term rehabilitation of the area.

Bunye said that government doctors are now working without let-up to prevent any outbreak of epidemic, while relief workers are distributing food, clothing and medicines as well as looking after the safety of the residents.

The city government of Manila and the DSWD are working hand in hand in the relief operation, he said.

An estimated 4,500 families and 2,503 structures were totally damaged by the fire that started at 11:45 p.m. of Saturday and put out at 6:30 a.m. the following day.

Five evacuation centers have been put up at the DPWH covered court, the bodega of Baseco, the Baseco Elementary School, Barangay basketball court and the reclamation area.

The DSWD reported that assistance extended to the victims include providing meals, family packs, mats, tents and goods to the families, while the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), through the 51st Engineering Battalion of the Army, provided portalets and tents.

During her visit, the President was able to make Baseco commit to provide water to the victims and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to also provide water and portalets.

The President has also been busy the last couple of weeks in inaugurating her Patubig program aimed at providing water supply to waterless communities in Metro Manila.

More than 160,000 families in Metro Manila are expected to benefit from this program.

"Ako’y nagulat na dito sa Metro Manila ay merong ganoong karami na hindi pa inaabot ng tubig. Kaya iyan ay isa sa mga pangunahing bibigyang pansin ng ating Pangulo (I myself am surprised that here in Metro Manila, we have that big number of waterless communities. That is why that’s the main concern now of the President)," Bunye said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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