DAVAO, Philippines - A huge night fire sent slum swellers running for their lives and destroyed more than a thousand homes in the Philippines' largest southern city, officials said Sunday.
Davao city's skyline lit up as firefighters battled for more than five hours against flames that leapt swiftly from one shanty to another in the depressed coastal neighbourhood of Isla Verde on Friday night, witnesses said.
"I'm back to zero. I don't know how I can recover," said grocer Norayna Serad, who lost her store and merchandise worth 100,000 pesos ($2,225) that she had paid for with three years worth of savings from working abroad.
"Maybe I will need to go back to Kuwait and work as a maid again," the 28-year-old told AFP as she clutched a half-burnt Quran beside the ruins of her shop.
The catastrophic blaze was finally under control shortly after 1:00am Saturday (1700 GMT Friday), but by then more than 5,000 people were left homeless, local civil defence officials said.
All that was left of the homes were charred or blackened posts, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Children scavenged for twisted metal and corrugated iron sheets among the ruins to sell for scrap.
"These were houses made of light materials. They were all razed to the ground," Jimmy Martinez, an official of the civil defence office for the Davao region told AFP.
Some of the houses had rested on stilts that stuck out of the coastal waters, and firefighters said they had difficulty moving through the narrow, winding alleyways between the shanties, he said. More than a thousand families sought refuge at a government schoolhouse that escaped the blaze.
Martinez added the slum sat on a previously vacant government lot that had been gradually settled by impoverished migrants to the city of 1.5 million people - a common phenomenon in Philippine urban centres.
The blaze was apparently started when an untended candle in one of the homes tipped over in the early evening, Davao fire investigator Ramil Gillado told AFP.
Fisherman's wife Gina Salapuddin watched her husband mark out with string the place where their shanty had stood, as the couple began planning for rebuilding even though they had lost practically all their possessions.
"God will provide," the 32-year-old woman told AFP.