A powerful explosion obliterated a fireworks factory in Cavite yesterday, killing at least five people and injuring 60 others.
The explosion also triggered a fire that gutted the Star Maker Fire Cracker Co. in Barangay Conchu, Trece Martires City.
Calabarzon regional police director Chief Superintendent Perfecto Palad said the cause of the explosion could not be immediately established. The blast left a crater large enough to fit a school bus.
Officials said the explosion that occurred at 10:45 a.m. was felt several kilometers away, damaging several homes and establishments.
Firefighters were trying to put out a blaze in a nearby factory that also caught fire.
Palad said most of the victims were workers of the factory. The mutilated bodies of two men and a woman were retrieved from the two-hectare compound.
Four of the fatalities were initially identified as Christian Panganiban, Rodelio Iso, Dionisio Enano and Marlon Rodrin.
Palad said the number of victims might increase since five of the injured were listed in critical condition at the General Emilio Aguinaldo provincial hospital where they are being treated for burns and injuries.
Palad ordered Cavite provincial police director Senior Superintendent Hernando Zafra to create a task force of investigators and secure the blast site and gather evidence.
“I have also ordered a thorough investigation to determine what happened and to file appropriate charges if there were lapses on the side of the management of Star Maker,” Palad said.
Police said the factory was owned and operated by a Taiwanese Salvador Tan, a licensed pyrotechnics maker known for its musical fireworks display.
“The company is a big player in the firecracker business. It joins international firecracker competitions. It also exports firecrackers,” according to Cavite deputy police chief Senior Superintendent Efren Castro.
Castro, who was among the first police officials that responded to the scene, said the explosion knocked down nearby commercial establishments and homes.
Castro added there were many body parts scattered meters away from the blast site.
Army Col. Romeo Ucag, who responded with his men, said shockwaves shattered windows and toppled concrete fences of nearby homes, knocking out electricity and raining down unexploded fireworks in the area.
Ucag said he heard the explosion and saw a thick column of smoke from his post in Tanza, about 10 kilometers north of Trece Martires.
Jerahmeel Razo, who lives about several meters from the factory, said he first heard a small explosion followed seconds later by a bigger and louder bang.
“The flames appeared to be racing toward me and it shattered my windows,” he said.
Razo said his screen door was ripped apart and the main door blown from its hinges. His legs were cut by glass on the floor as he knelt to shield himself.
Mayor Melencio Sagun added the blast was felt several kilometers away that it broke the glass window panes of the town hall.
Castro said their initial investigation revealed there were 30 to 40 employees inside the factory at the time of the explosion.
The factory, investigators found out, employs nearly 100 workers, mostly living nearby.
Castro said investigators are verifying reports that one of the workers tested one of the firecrackers inside the compound.
Initial reports said a wayward firecracker hit a stack of pyrotechnics that triggered the explosion.
Castro said they had made previous inspections of the factory.
He said the company has implemented safety measures to prevent accidental explosions.
“They have separate buildings for different firecracker ingredients such as black powder. We will investigate and find out what really happened,” Castro said.
Star Maker, for its part, expressed their sympathy to the victims in what they called an “unfortunate incident.”
“No one wanted this to happen, especially our company who, for 20 years, has been servicing the needs of companies and even foreign government for their pyrotechnical needs,” company spokesman Ricky Rivera said.
Rivera said the company would extend all necessary assistance to the victims.
According to Rivera, the company was conducting an inventory with a handful of employees when the explosion occurred.
“That is why we are also interested in looking at the real cause of the accident. We will be waiting for the final police investigation report and ask the public to do the same,” Rivera said.
Rivera reiterated the company had complied with the Japanese and Philippine safety standards for manufacturing pyrotechnics.
Cavite Gov. Ayong Maliksi said the provincial government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development would extend all assistance for the victims.
Maliksi said charges would be prepared soon after investigation of the incident.
The blast also knocked down several electric posts, leaving wide areas without electricity.
Maliksi also ordered the suspension of classes in some areas near explosion site until after power is restored. – Non Alquitran with Cecille Suerte Felipe, Arnell Ozaeta, Ed Amoroso, AP