FIRE of unknown origin broke out midmorning Sunday at the Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel & Casino in the tourist belt in Ermita district, with initial reports putting the death toll at four people, and over a dozen others reportedly trapped.

The four fatalities did not make it alive at the nearby Manila Doctor’s Hospital, city authorities said. Rescue units were trying to save some 20 hotel guests believed trapped inside the hotel.

Meanwhile, the Manila City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said six other people were injured in the fire and at least 20 hotel guests remained trapped.

Fire broke out at the hotel at 9:52 a.m., with the fire’s alarm raised to Task Force Bravo.

In scenes that revived anxiety over the safety of casinos — over three dozen people were dead, trapped in the Resorts World hotel casino fire last year started by a gambling addict who went amok — the Waterfront Pavilion’s casino area was ablaze; so were the areas from the mezzanine to the third floor.

The chief of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Johnny Yu, said their effort was focused on preventing flames from affecting the upper floors.

Authorities closed off the perimeter of the 22-storey hotel at the corner of United Nations Avenue and Maria Orosa Street in Ermita district.

In a Facebook post, Francis Raymund Magallnez Gonzales gave an eyewitness account of the fire. He and some friends had gone to Luneta park near the hotel from Friday night until the break of dawn Saturday for their usual sessions of playing quiz games. He and another friend decided to stay longer in the area, and about 10:00 a.m., “we saw something peculiar and strange at a distance. A cloud of caramel-colored smoke is billowing from the area of the Manila Pavilion Hotel.”

His friend, AJ Saenz, initially exclaimed, “Sunog [Fire!],” and they watched the smoke rise. They “mistakenly thought that an LPG tank has just exploded just at the sidewalk near the hotel.” However, as the smoke kept billowing, they decided to approach the fire scene. It was 10:20 a.m. Soon, said Mr. Gonzales, firetrucks started arriving, together with ambulances and police cars.

“The Maria Orosa facade is spewing smoke. We also saw smoke at the far rear side. AJ found a young man (with) a wet towel hanging on his shoulders and his left big toe is bleeding. My friend took his first aid kit and I assisted him in cleaning and dressing the wound. Without asking his name, we found out that he works in the hotel and has just evacuated together with a colleague,” recounted Mr. Gonzalez.

They then saw a “white helicopter around 12:00 noon to help those trapped at the top of the building. But at around 12:30 p.m., we saw the smoke at the distance thickening, and firetrucks are pouring into the area nonstop. I rose up to check again the place and saw the Maria Orosa street in front of the hotel all in blinding smoke.”

Then, more firetrucks, police cars and people. “I looked for an alternative route to get closer to the hotel, going to Taft Avenue and right towards UN Avenue. I realized that the half of UN Avenue is in eye-stinging toxic smoke. I went out of the area and as I [walked] away, a loud explosion” was heard at exactly 12:43 p.m.

The hotel was still on fire as of Sunday afternoon. An initial statement by the hotel management read: “A fire broke out at Manila Pavilion Hotel around 9 this morning, March 18, 2018.”

“The hotel management has taken steps to ensure the safety and security of our hotel guests and employees. We will issue a full report once a thorough investigation has been completed,” the statement also read. — News5-InterAksyon