Government officials from the United States and the Philippines took to social media this week to express condolences to the families of a group of Filipina nurses who died in a Bay Area limousine fire over the weekend.
“Condolences to the Fojas family in the Philippines and the U.S. and other nurses,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr.
The Philippines ambassador to the United States, Jose L. Cuisia Jr., said, "We join the rest of the Filipino Community in the US in prayer for the eternal repose of the souls of those who perished,” the Philippine embassy tweeted.
The embassy followed by saying, “The embassy and the consulate general in San Francisco stand ready to extend any possible assistance to the victims and their families.”
The outpouring of support comes in the wake of the fatal fire on the San-Mateo-Hayward Bridge on Saturday night. Authorities say a 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine carrying nine women – all but one of whom nurses who knew each other though Oakland’s Fruitvale Healthcare Center – caught fire while en route to Foster City.
Four of the women and the driver managed to escape; five did not.
The San Mateo County coroner's office Tuesday released the names of the victims:
Neriza Fojas, 31, and Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin, Calif.; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo, Calif.; and Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda.
Other than Geronga, the close-knit Filipina friends were all nurses who had met while working at the healthcare center in Oakland, where they bonded like "sisters," one survivor told a local television station.
The Saturday night inferno trapped them as they headed for a hotel bridal party for Fojas, who had recently married and was planning a second ceremony in her native Philippines next month.
Balon leaves a 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, her husband, John, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
John Balon said survivor Nelia Arellano told him the rear passenger doors in the limousine were locked, forcing the women to attempt to escape through the partition window behind the driver's seat.
The five who died were found in a heap near the window, San Mateo County Coroner Robert J. Foucrault said.
Alcantara leaves a 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, her brother-in-law, Resty Padojino, told the Chronicle.
"We can only speculate about the condition she was in," he said. "That's the hardest thing for us right now -- how she suffered. We can't understand."
The limousine was only permitted to carry eight passengers, not nine, an official from the Public Utilities Commission said. The commission regulates limousines in California.
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