01/13/2004, 00.00
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Manila fire leaves 22,000 homeless

More than 22,000 people were without homes after a fire blazed through a Baseco slum, the Tondo shantytown, Manila's poorest district.

No deaths or injuries were reported, but more than 2,500 homes were reduced to ashes. Sources said the inferno broke out on the night of  Sunday Jan.11, started by a gas lamp or candle left burning. After only 7 hours fires were put out, in part thanks to help from coast guard and naval boats.

Kim Atienza, a Manila city official, said: "If there had been streets allowing access to fire-fighters, the fire wouldn't have been so devastating." Baseco is a complex of small streets and wooden bridges facing the bay of Manila.

Many of the homeless survivors were temporarily gathered in a nearby gym, in abandoned warehouses and open lots in the port area.

This is the third fire to rage through Baseco in a year's time. Two years ago another major fire destroyed half of the neighborhood's flimsy homes.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was at the disaster site while flames were still raging, immediately ordered the setting up of temporary evacuation centers and rebuilding of homes as soon as possible.

The inhabitants of Baseco, many of which have lived in the slum for over 25 years, are long supporters of the Marcos family since the ex-governor of Manila, Imelda Marcos, tolerated their illegal homes. When in 1986 president Ferdinand Marcos was dethroned and the entire family emigrated abroad, Baseco's inhabitants put their trust in Estrada. Two years ago many of them dared to participate in a rally to oust Arroyo and put Estrada back in the position, who was dismissed from power for corruption.

It is possible that, if the government makes an effort to grant land to the inhabitants and rebuild their homes, Baseco's residents might change their feelings for Arroyo around election time. (SF)

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