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Girl killed and 4,000 homeless after Philippines shanty town blaze

A girl of five was killed and thousands of people left homeless when a fire destroyed a shanty town in the Philippine capital, Manila. Erica Joy Valdez, was found by scavengers in her family’s gutted house on Monday. She was first reported missing by  her mother, Juliet Valdez, who later realized that she had left behind her daughter when she escaped from the blaze. The Philippine Star newspaper reported. The blaze gutted 500 shanties, which were packed together in Manila Bay, some housing two or three families, leaving about 4,000 people homeless.Remarkably, apart from Erica Joy, there were no other deaths or even reports of serious injury at the Baseco Compound, Senior Fire Officer Emmanuel Gaspar said.

That could yet, change, however, as survivors begin to sift through what is left of their homes. The victims were being housed in two evacuation centres within the compound, said Gwendolyn Pang, a Philippine  National Red Cross official. Thelsa Biolena, the Social Welfare Department's regional director, said porridge and  boxes of noodles for hot soup were distributed to the victims. Amid the ashes, some families were unwilling to leave the tiny patches of land where their homes once stood. Amorsolo Villamor, his wife and three children returned to the gutted shack they shared with two other families  after running from the flames on Saturday night because they feared others may stake a claim to the land if they  moved to a nearby village hall that was being turned into an evacuation centre.

 The cause of the fire, which raged for two hours, fanned by strong winds, is still under investigation.The 53-hectare (130-acre) compound that used to house a shipyard has been ravaged by huge fires before. A 2002 blaze  left some 15,000 residents homeless, and a 2004 fire razed shanties of 25,000 people. Tight living conditions at  Baseco and other slums allow flames to quickly spread through houses made of light materials. The Philippines, a group of 7,000 pacific islands, is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of  people live in poverty. The economy is heavily dependent on the billions of dollars sent home each year by the huge Filipino overseas workforce. On the southern island of Mindanao, rebels have been fighting for a separate Islamic state within the mainly-Catholic country. The decades-long conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives.


By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children