Bunker fuel fouls up Pasig River

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STORAGE TANK LEAK A Coast Guard member checks the bunker fuel that spilled from a storage tank into Pasig River in Sta. Ana, Manila. RICHARD A. REYES

Thousands of liters of bunker fuel supposedly released on Saturday night from a storage tank at a small depot in Sta. Ana, Manila, caused panic among residents as gas fumes wafted through the densely populated area, according to a City Hall official.

Four people were hospitalized after experiencing “difficulty in breathing” apparently caused by the strong smell, according to Rick de Guzman, chief of staff of Mayor Alfredo Lim.

De Guzman, one of the first to respond to the incident, said among those taken to the hospital was a 2-month-old infant, who was briefly placed in an intensive care unit. “They are now OK and have been discharged from the hospital,” he said.

At least 3,000 liters of gas flowed into the Pasig River, based on information from the Coast Guard, said City Administrator Jay Marzan.

Malacañang sounded unperturbed by the gas spill that reportedly happened close to President Aquino’s residence in Bahay Pangarap inside the compound of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

“We will let the PSG assess that. [They are] aware of the situation,” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said when asked if the spill posed any danger to President Aquino.

3-meter-tall tanks

De Guzman said the gas spill happened in a compound at 2657 Old Panadero Street along the Pasig River near the Lambingan Bridge.

He said the compound, which served as a depot, occupied an area of at least 2,000 square meters. It had four 3-meter-tall storage tanks for bunker fuel.

No evacuation took place as the source of the fumes was immediately located and its further spread stopped, he added.

Supt. Remigio Sedanto, Sta. Ana Police commander, said investigation showed the spill came from one of the storage tanks with a busted pipe. The valve of the tank that caused the spill had been closed, he said.

Four depot workers were taken in for questioning and 17 others will be interviewed to shed light on the incident, Sedanto said. He identified the four workers as Eddie Bitonio, Ronaldo Vidania, Juner Intal and Benjie Binggot.

Inspectors wearing masks arrive at the spill site. RICHARD A. REYES

Sedanto also said that among the things police were investigating was why responding Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel and policemen were not immediately allowed to enter the compound.

“They had to climb the fence to enter the compound,” Sedanto said.

Sabotage angle

Elmar Malapitan, lawyer for Teresita Enriquez, owner of the depot Larraine Marketing, said the “sabotage angle” was also being looked into. Enriquez is abroad, he said.

“A labor dispute is ongoing and there could be a sabotage,” Malapitan said. He said the owners were ready to face an investigation.

Sedanto said that when the police arrived in the area, the compound was deserted but oil tanker trucks were parked outside it. The area was far from the area in Pandacan that houses the depots of three big oil companies, he added.

No-smoking area

Marzan said the BFP and Philippine Coast Guard personnel were wearing antifire gear and oxygen masks when they inspected the storage tank suspected to be the source of the gas.

He said a no-smoking area had been declared over a 100-meter radius near the compound and authorities had closed the streets leading to the place.

A new leak from the same bunker was observed Sunday morning, but Marzan said “we decided to empty the bunker to ensure no more gas could come out.”

Alleged violations

Marzan said city authorities had noted “a lot” of violations of regulations in the management of the depot.

“From safety and environment. It depends. We haven’t seen the permit that they applied for,” he said.

Marzan said gas had also drifted toward the Pasig River, but the Coast Guard put up oil booms to stop the spread of the spill.

Personnel from the Laguna Lake Development Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had arrived at the scene to investigate, he said.

As far as Taft Avenue

Police records showed that residents started to smell the strong gas odor at 10 p.m. Soon, complaints about the strong odor began pouring into the police station.

Based on the calls, the strong smell reached as far as Taft Avenue.

Coast Guard personnel were then immediately dispatched along the Pasig River to look for the source of the gas leak.—With a report from TJ A. Burgonio

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