Fire and Ministry of Tourism officials said they believe professional arsonists were involved in the fire at the luxury Regent of Manila Hotel that killed at least 27 persons yesterday.
The Regent fire is the sixth at Philippine hotels in five months. Previous fires have killed 40 people, including several U.S. war veterans at a hotel in the resort of Baguio last October. The government had blamed antigovernment arsonists, but there has been no proof that the fires were politically motivated. Officials did not immediately attach political motives to the Regent fire.
The Philippines News Agency speculated that the fire might have been started by the principal suspect in the Baguio fire, Petronilo Valeros, who escaped from police custody last week.
Twenty-four hours after the blaze began, smoke continued to billow from the building, slowing down the search for many still unaccounted for and hampering recovery of bodies.
Fire trucks continued to race back and forth along scenic Roxas Boulevard fronting Manila Bay, where the hotel is located.
Twenty-two people were confirmed dead, and police and fire authorities said five more bodies were not yet retrieved from the seventh floor.
Only eight had been identified as of late Wednesday night. They included Americans identified as Raymond Ching of Hawaii; Louis Carroll Rowney and his wife, who lived in Subic Naval Base in the Philippines, and Edward Carol, an official with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service based in Tokyo.
The other fatalities were a Sri Lankan official, a Hong Kong citizen and two Filipinos.
The death toll from the fire, which began at 12:30 a.m. yesterday, could rise further. The Philippine News Agency quoted officials as saying 100 persons, mainly foreign guests, are still missing.
"We are still looking for more bodies," fire department official Col. Manuel Innocente said. "We believe there are more still inside. We do not know how many."
Various hospitals reported that 30 persons had been treated for smoke inhalation, cuts and shock. Many guests jumped from their rooms in panic.
There were conflicting reports about how the fire started. Hotel guests and some employes said they noticed the fire on the second and roof-deck floors.
The hotel had about 370 guests at that time, and many of them rushed out barefoot or in their nightclothes. Many of the guests complained that they did not hear any fire alarm, that there were no emergency lights and that the sprinklers did not work.
Firefighters were hampered by the thick smoke and intense heat, and fire engine ladders could reach only the sixth floor of the nine-story hotel. One fire truck racing to the scene collided with a taxi, injuring five firemen.
The minister for tourism, Jose Aspiras, announced that there will be an inquiry and said that the government will extend assistance to victims.
Hotel employes were scheduled to begin a strike today for higher pay.