MANILA — Fire gutted the Manila Central Post Office, one of the oldest and most iconic structures in the capital, officials said on Monday.
Firefighters said the blaze started before midnight on Sunday at the basement of the building in Lawton, Manila, which provides postal services and operates a museum.
Thick, black smoke billowed hundreds of meters into the sky as flames gutted the neo-classical landmark that overlooks the Pasig River.
The inferno reached general alarm, the highest under the Bureau of Fire Protection classification, which meant all available firetrucks in Metro Manila were asked to respond. It took firefighters more than 7 hours to get the fire under control.
The Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost) uses a portion of the building's basement as its Mega Manila area office, which doubles as a storage area for documents and unused equipment, said Marc Laurente, chief of staff of the Philpost Postmaster General.
The Philpost office is located right beside an area for letters and parcels, he added.
The whole building burned down from the basement all the way to the fifth floor, Postmaster General Luis Carlos said.
Letters, parcels and the postal agency's entire stamp collection were likely destroyed, he said.
Carlos said operations of the post office would be transferred to a mail sorting and distribution center in Delpan. Meanwhile, the business mails service for private corporations will be moved to an airport area, he added.
"We’re fixing already where the Manila Central Post Office will be. We have an area already. We have an old building at the side of the main building, we’re fixing it now, other offices will stay here," he said.
"There’s also a building at the back, it is a 2-story canteen, it used to be a canteen... We’re using that as part of the offices ng mga corporate namin."
Carlos also clarified that only the mail service in Manila was affected by the fire.
Meanwhile, some national IDs for delivery in the capital were affected by the fire, Philippine Statistics Authority Undersecretary and National Statistician Dennis Mapa said.
In a statement, Mapa said the PSA was working with the Philippine Postal Corp to determine the total number of affected Philippine National IDs (PhilIDs).
The cause of the blaze was being investigated, Carlos said.
The fire has yet to be completely put out as of 5:40 p.m. According to F/Supt. Christin Cula of the Manila Fire Department, firemen are still checking the whole building for any embers.
She also said there are some rooms in the upper floors of the building that were left untouched by the fire, but over 90 percent of the building was affected.
The number of injured in the fire remains at 7, and all of them have already been treated of their minor injuries, according to Cula.
Originally built in 1926, the post office was once considered the "grandest building" in Manila, according to its website.
It was destroyed in World War II as US forces recaptured the capital from Japanese occupation forces, and rebuilt in 1946.
The Philippine National Museum declared the building an "important cultural property" in 2018.
— With reports from Karen De Guzman, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse