MANILA (5TH UPDATE) - Twenty-five people were injured when fire and a series of explosions struck a Philippine Army munitions depot near the country's financial district Wednesday, officials and witnesses said.
Local television footage showed uniformed soldiers carrying some of the injured on stretchers away from a burning building enveloped in black smoke, while three other victims sat on the pavement awaiting medical help.
DZMM correspondent Dennis Datu said he had just reported on the fire when a huge explosion hit the Army Support Command and a "rain of bullets" and debris started to fall, causing people to scramble to safety.
"Ang bala umulan, napadapa kami lahat. Sobra lakas ng pagsabog, dumilim," he said, adding that he was at least 100 meters away from the armory.
Twenty-five people were treated at a nearby Philippine army hospital, with five soldiers and a civilian among them later moved to other hospitals because they had serious injuries, Colonel Rovelene Bambao, a medical doctor, told AFP.
Eight soldiers, seven firefighters and a civilian were among the injured, Philippine Army spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato said. The identities of the seven others were not immediately known.
The cause of the blaze which razed the munitions supply depot at the Philippine Army Reserve Command was being investigated. The fire apparently triggered explosions among munitions stored there, Detoyato added.
Detoyato confirmed two of his men were injured in the explosion.
"I was about 20 meters away from the fire when the last explosion occurred. It was a big explosion that caused the wounding of 2 of my cameramen and also some firefighters were around delivering water to the fire," he said in an ANC interview.
The isolated building is located a few minutes' drive from the Makati financial district in Manila.
The Army spokesman said the building also served as a training facility for students learning to deactivate explosives.
"They have improvised explosive devices. When you teach students, you show them the IED," he said.
Detoyato said the Army had ordered the evacuation of nearby offices and commercial buildings as a precaution.
An AFP photographer saw seven men being treated for various injuries at the army hospital.
"We were hit by flying bricks and broken glass as we retreated from the building," volunteer Manila fireman Agrifino Santos told AFP.
The 40-year-old fireman said his team was dispatched from a nearby district to respond to the fire in late morning and had emptied their water cannon at the blaze when explosions began.
"We hit the ground immediately but we got hit nonetheless," said Santos, his head heavily bandaged and his back scorched after his shirt ignited.
His six colleagues had apparently less serious cuts on their legs and hands.
Philippine Army deputy spokesman Captain Anthony Bacus told reporters he heard a series of small blasts "like firecrackers" as he sat at another army building nearby shortly after the fire alert was raised.
"After about 15 minutes there was a huge explosion," he added. With reports by Dennis Datu and Henry Atuelan, radio DZMM; ANC and Agence France-Presse