Remembering the Ozone Disco Tragedy

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This, according to sources was the song playing when the fire started. Gave me goosebumps.

Manila acts after its deadliest fire in half a century
By Antonio Lopez / Quezon City

IT BEGAN AS A mere flicker of light at disc jockey Mervyn Reyes's feet around 11:35 p.m. Alexander Taguibao, who happened to be watching the DJ's booth, assumed the flash was part of the Ozone Disco Pub's light show of strobes and twirling spots. But in the next instant, the spark climbed to the ceiling -- and the structure was suddenly ablaze. "A girl shouted 'Fire!'," recalls Mike Planas, another patron. "There was pandemonium. Everyone was pushing and shouting." An explosion ripped through the room, the lights went out and the ceiling collapsed. Before the last embers stopped smoldering, at least 150 people -- many teenagers celebrating graduation from high school -- had died. More than 100 others were badly burned. Scores were missing.

The March 18 tragedy was the Philippines' deadiest fire in 50 years. An emotional cacophony swirled in its aftermath: sorrow for the young people who died after a triumphant rite of passage, compassion for the burned survivors. Above all, anger at whoever and whatever were responsible. "Heads must roll," demanded Congressman Feliciano Belmonte, who represents Quezon City, the Metro Manila suburb where the Ozone Disco was located. President Fidel Ramos ordered an investigation. The next day, March 19, Quezon City fire officials were suspended. City engineer Alfredo Macapugay, whose office is responsible for enforcing building and fire safety regulations, was relieved of his duties.

Too late, of course, for the kids whose lives were lost. Many in the crowd had been enticed by a 50% Monday discount on the cover charge and half off the normal drink price. Eloisa Orolfo and her cousin Michel Yambot, both 16, were celebrating their graduation from Arellano High School. Orolfo, who wanted to be a fashion model or a nurse, ended up at the East Avenue Medical Center with burns covering 95% of her body. Her 22-year-old sister, Cynthia, was also seriously burned. As of March 20, Yambot was still missing. Maritime cadet Michael Miranda, 19, was with a group celebrating a friend's birthday. He suffered extensive burns and lung damage from the smoke. "He was graduating within six months," said his anguished mother, Filipina. Tessie Sagario was equally bereft: she lost her husband, son and daughter.

How did so many die so quickly? The popular Ozone, with its 50-square meter dance floor, had a permit for 50 patrons. But it had about 40 employees, and its logbook showed 350 people had gone in and out the night of the fire. "The disco had no fire exit," says Feroma Kaylie, who frequents the place but was not there when the tragedy struck. There was one, insists Hermilo Ocampo, president of Westwood Entertainment, which owned Ozone: "Because of the thick smoke, the whole place became dark and people panicked. So the fire exit wasn't used." Sources say the emergency door was inside the VIP room and led into the kitchen of an adjoining restaurant. Some disco employees used it to escape.

The customers rushed for the lone, wooden front door, which would not open -- some witnesses later claimed the guard had locked it. The crush of bodies tore the door off its hinges. "It fell on me," recounts patron Arnold Tadero. He may have been lucky. Recalls Planas, who is a member of Quezon City's local council: "When the door was opened, there was a backdraft, creating a fireball that burned everyone in its path." Firefighters arrived at 12:05 a.m., a full half hour after the blaze started, and fought the fire for 52 minutes. They were met by bodies piled three and four deep near the door. "In my 31 years [in the service], I have never seen a tragedy like this," says Capt. Edgardo Santos, commander of the fire station closest to the disco.

Investigators say faulty or overloaded wiring may have caused the blaze, which spread quickly because the inside walls of the disco were made of combustible soundproofing materials. Congressman Belmonte also blamed "bureaucratic bungling." Ozone was originally allowed to be built as a residence, he said, but it was turned into a commercial establishment "with the help of some corrupt City Hall officials." The mayors of Manila and surrounding cities have decided to conduct inspections of discos, restaurants and even dormitories in their jurisdictions. Ramos had earlier declared March as Fire Prevention Month. Last week's tragedy has sadly brought the message home.

Source: Asiaweek.Com

*Death Traps [Asiaweek.Com]
I've reposted this from: 
Well, I repost this yearly actually...

You Might Also Like