Filipino among 22 killed in Riyadh blast

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Nov 01 2012 10:02 PM | Updated as of Nov 02 2012 07:43 PM

MANILA, Philippines (7th UPDATE) - A Filipino was among 22 people killed in a fuel truck blast and building collapse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Philippine officials said.

At least 12 other Filipinos were injured in the explosion, with 9 admitted to hospitals.

Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago confirmed Thursday night that one of the fatalities is a Filipino.

The victim was inside a vehicle parked in the area when the explosion occurred, reports said.

"Iyung namatay na Pilipino, kasama niya yung bayaw niya kaya na-inform yung mga kamag-anak sa Pilipinas," Tago told ANC's The World Tonight.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez also confirmed that a Filipino died in the fuel truck blast.

He said 9 are in hospitals while 3 have been discharged.

The victims were brought to the National Guard Hospital, the Habib Hospital, the Jazira Clinic, and Shumaisi, Hernandez said.

"Embassy teams are still checking with other hospitals," Hernandez earlier told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

Tago told TV Patrol that the embassy is helping the blast victims.

"Nung narinig namin yung balita, about yung truck,  iyung tanker na nag-explode, nagpadala kami (personnel) sa ospital," Tago said.

"Nakipag-coordinate kami sa employer nila to ensure na they are well-assisted habang nasa ospital sila," Tago said.

Tago added that overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are usually covered by medical insurance. "We will coordinate with employers in case there are issues."

He said authorities in the kingdom gave assurances that the tanker blast is not related to a terrorist act.

Fuel tanker crash

At least 22 people were killed in the incident, which happened when a fuel truck crashed into a flyover, triggering an explosion that brought down an industrial building and torched nearby vehicles, officials and state media said.

Health ministry spokesman Saad al-Qahtani said 135 people were injured in the disaster. He told state television they were mostly men and included some foreigners.

The civil defense department said a gas tanker had hit a bridge in eastern Riyadh, causing a gas leak and an explosion in a nearby heavy machinery and vehicles warehouse, according to the state news agency SPA.

"The truck driver was surprised by a road accident on its route, causing it to crash into one of the pillars of the bridge," spokesman Captain Mohamed Hubail Hammadi said.

Although the incident took place near the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the Prince Nayef Arab College for Security Sciences, officials speaking on state television said it was an accident.

Witnesses recall explosion

A Filipino, who was among those who arrived on the scene after the explosion and building collapse, said several Filipinos were among victims.

Jojo Custodio, an employee of Zahid Tractor, said he was 3 kilometers away from work when the blast occured.

Custodio said he heard the explosion and felt the vibrations from the blast.

He immediately rushed to his office to check on his relatives who worked in the area.

Upon arriving at Zahid, he said he saw several injured co-workers, including some Filipinos.

"Nakita ko ang impact kasi nakasilip ako ng bintana. Tanaw namin ang compound," Custodio told TV Patrol.

"Papunta sana ako roon. Dumapa ako, kasi yung bubog, papunta sa akin sa kwarto ko. Pagtapos noon, bumaba kami. Lumabas kami ng mga kasamahan ko sa bahay, pagpunta namin sa compound," he said.

"Nakita namin doon sa ilalim ng tulay may nasusunog na tanker. Pumasok kami sa compound namin, doon na namin nakita na halos yung buong kumpanya namin nasira talaga sya," he added.

"Maraming kumpanya nagtatratabaho nung oras na iyun. Ang tendency namin, pumasok kami sa loob para i-rescue ang kapwa namin Pilipino. Mga casualty, marami nasugatan pero lahat naman sila nasa ospital na ngayon," Custodio said.

"Palabas na ako, may nabalitaan din kami na isang nasawi pero di namin alam kung sino," he said.

Jake Buban, another Filipino who witnessed the explosion, described the blast as powerful.

"May narinig po akong parang eroplanong dumaan tapos biglang sumabog. Ang instinct ko po parang may sumabog na bomba," he told ANC.

Buban said he was inside a workshop near where the fuel tanker exploded. "Matindi po yung impact," he said.

He said some Filipinos who were with with him were injured in the blast. "Nadala po namin sila sa ospital. Okay na po sila."

Driver blamed

Saudi civil defense chief Saed al-Tweijri said the fire caused by the blast has been brought under control. He blamed the tanker driver for the accident.

A warehouse several storeys high was levelled by the blast, which also caused severe damage to other neighbouring buildings. Rubble, twisted metal and shattered glass littered a wide stretch of the surrounding area.

"I was inside the building when the blast came. Then boom, the building collapsed. Furniture, chairs and cabinets blasted into the room I was in," said survivor Kushnoo Akhtar, a 55-year-old Pakistani worker, who was covered in dirt and bleeding from multiple cuts on his face and hands. "My brother is still inside under the rubble. There are lots of people in there."

The blast, which struck at around 7.20 a.m. local time, was on one of the capital's busiest roads but because Saudi Arabia is still observing the Eid al-Adha holiday, traffic was lighter than normal.

An hour after the explosion, fires still raged in cars and trucks nearby and a column of black smoke billowed over the area.

Dozens of burnt-out vehicles surrounded the scene of the blast, including a small bus and other cars on top of the flyover, which was left buckling after the incident.

Television footage and pictures posted on social media showed a body lying by smoking vehicles and at least two charred bodies seated in a car. Another blackened corpse was visible in the remains of a truck.

More than 100 emergency personnel were combing the wreckage on the flyover and searching for victims in the rubble of the building, which housed the operations of Zahid Tractor, a distributor of heavy machinery. - with reports from ANC; Reuters