MANILA: Eight women died in the Philippine capital on Friday as a fire engulfed a building in which they had been locked in by their employer, police said.
Eight other women survived the blaze by climbing to the roof of the two-storey building and jumping off, said police officer Cris Gabutin, an investigator in the case.
“They said the gate was locked. It was dark and they could not find a way out. It was a lucky thing they were able to get out to the roof and jump,” Gabutin said.
The bodies of the eight other women were found sprawled in one room, Gabutin said.
“It was like they were trapped. Maybe they panicked and could not find their way out,” he said. Gabutin said six of the dead women identified so far were aged between 19 and 24.
A neighbourhood watchman in the middle-class residential area where the fire occurred, Jayvee Arizapa, said neighbours saw the women leaping from the roof.
“We could also hear people screaming for help inside but we could not help them because the wall was too high,” he said.
The women were all from rural areas who had been brought to Manila to work in a warehouse storing electronic products and computer disks, according to Gabutin. He said they were sleeping in a building next to the warehouse when the fire started just after midnight.
He said the cause of the fire was unknown but police had arrested the owner of the building, charging him with human trafficking, negligence resulting in homicide and operating a business in the area without a license.
It is a common practice in the Philippines for low-paid employees to sleep in their place of work.
Employers typically do not provide enough safety measures for their staff, and some are known to lock them in to stop them stealing or prevent socialising.
Seventeen workers died in the southern Philippines in 2012 when a fire burnt down a department store in which they were sleeping.