At least two Filipino workers were killed in a blaze that engulfed a makeshift camp near a gas plant in Saudi Arabia last weekend, an online news site reported Wednesday.
Jeddah-based Arab News said the unidentified Filipinos were among six foreign nationals who have been recovered in the camp about 7 kilometers from the Khurasaniyah Gas Plant in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province.
The 50-square-kilometer camp belongs to the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) that has been tasked by Bechtel and Technip to construct the massive gas processing plant for Saudi Aramco.
CCC employees and supervisors who spoke on condition of anonymity said the fire broke out at 8:30 a.m. Sunday in one of the sections of the residential camp.
According to the CCC supervisor, the fire broke out because of a leaking cooking gas cylinder in a kitchen in that particular quarter of the camp.
Of the fatalities, three were from Bangladesh, two from the Philippines and one from India, said the report.
The Arab News report said at least 40 workers known to be Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos were reported missing.
"Going by what we have seen, we can only assume the worst," a CCC technical supervisor who cited company records told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“Most of those who died were sleeping at the time of the accident. They had done their night shift and were asleep when the fire engulfed their porta-cabins. Most of the other workers were at the work site.
They saw the devastation that the fire caused only when they came back during lunch break," he added.
Some of the co-workers reportedly counted nearly 15 bodies being transported to ambulances, some of whom were presumed to be still under treatment at the Jubail Central Hospital and Dammam Central Hospital.
"Workers were horrified by the charred remains of some of their colleagues. Many bodies were burned beyond recognition, the Arab News report said.
One of the employees said nearly 400 workers were in that particular area at the time of the accident.
Civil Defense personnel battled the blaze for nearly four hours. Nurses at the two hospitals spoke of receiving badly burned bodies.
“We don’t know their nationalities. They will have to conduct DNA tests to ascertain which country they are from," one local newspaper quoted nurses as saying.
The Arab News said the nurses recalled receiving more than 20 bodies, but local authorities did not corroborate this.
Also, the report said the blaze was visible from quite a distance on the Dammam-Khafji Highway.
However, many trailer drivers who spoke to local newspapers believed the fire was one of the many oil refinery flares that dot the Eastern Province skyline.
Some of the workers said there were no adequate safety measures in the place where the accident occurred.
“There was only one escape route in that area. Even if the workers were awake, they would have found it difficult to escape. It would have been a near stampede if all of the 400 workers had been trying to escape from that area," they said.
The Philippine Consulate in Riyadh said it has yet to receive a report about a Filipino casualty in the incident.
Vice Consul Roussel Reyes told GMANews.TV that the report of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) based in Alkhobar mentioned only that six Bangladeshi nationals and one Indian have died in the fire.
Saudi Arabia is host to an estimated 1.2 million Filipinos, mostly professionals and skilled and semi-skilled professionals. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde with Kim Tan, GMANews.TV