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International
Tuesday, 26-December-2006
AP- - A fire that started with the use of illegally sold firecrackers swept through a department store in the central Philippines, killing 24 people who took refuge in a restroom, the police said Tuesday.

The blaze spread quickly from firecrackers and pyrotechnics that ignited near the entrance of the one-story building in Ormoc, 340 miles southeast of Manila, leaving many vendors and customers trapped inside, said the chief superintendent, Eliseo dela Paz.

He said that people who had been near the entrance managed to escape, but that others were forced into a restroom, where 23 charred bodies were found. The victims included customers, vendors and store employees.

Another person died of injuries overnight, and 15 were treated in two Ormoc hospitals. Two of them are in critical condition, the police said.

Mr. dela Paz said the exit door in the back of the store had been padlocked, blocking the escape route.

He said the store did not have a permit to sell firecrackers and that the police had cracked down on dealers selling fireworks inside stores in order to prevent accidents.

“But they put up some displays in the afternoon,” Mr. dela Paz said by telephone. “Apparently that’s where the fire started.”

He said the police were looking for the owner, but could not locate him.

Many stores and malls throughout the predominantly Christian Philippines were open on Christmas, a public holiday, giving families a chance for last-minute shopping as well as recreation.

Firecrackers and other pyrotechnics are extremely popular during the holidays, and accidents are common despite efforts to minimize reckless celebrations.

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