At least 36 people died after a gunman burst into a Manila casino, firing shots and setting gaming tables alight, a spokesman for the Philippine president says, in what officials believe was a botched robbery attempt.
There was no evidence linking the attack at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country's south, said Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.
"All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual," Mr Abella told a news conference. "Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone."
Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos as guests and staff tried to flee choking smoke at the complex after the drama that began shortly after midnight (4am NZT).
Stay away from Resorts World right now. There are reports of a terrorist attack. The casino is on fire and people are being evacuated. pic.twitter.com/neGQ2mEzR0— Magik (@officialdjmagik) June 1, 2017
Oscar Albayalde, chief of the capital's police office, said those that died were in the casino's main gaming area.
"What caused their deaths is the thick smoke," he told reporters. "The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible."
Resorts World Manila official said the dead included 13 employees and 22 guests.
Around dawn, the burned body of the suspected gunman was found in a hotel room in the complex, which is close to Ninoy Aquino International Airport and an air force base, police said.
The bodies of two of the victims had been taken to the Veronica funeral parlour, staff member Leni Domingo told Reuters.
Resort owner Travellers International Hotel Group Inc said authorities were still seeking details.
"We have been informed of several casualties, the number and identities of whom have yet to be determined," it said in a statement. Its shares were down 7 percent.
Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what at first had been feared as a militant attack.
Mr Dela Rosa told DZMM radio the lone gunman had not aimed his assault rifle at people and might have been trying to steal casino chips.
"Don't panic, this is not a cause for alarm. We cannot attribute this to terrorism," Mr Dela Rosa said.
"Don't panic, this is not a cause for alarm. We cannot attribute this to terrorism," national police chief
"We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire," he said.
Police said the gunman was tall with a pale complexion and spoke English.
Videos posted earlier on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs were heard.
"Even the security personnel panicked. Maybe because of the heavy firearm, they can't put up a fight so they prioritised life and safety," Jeff Santos, a high roller at Resorts World Manila, told a Philippine radio station.
"Definitely us patrons we did not expect that, everyone ran away."
Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, said patients were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and some had injuries such as fractures. None had gunshot wounds, she said.
Kimberly Molitas, a spokeswoman for the capital's police office, said 113 million Philippine pesos ($US2.27m) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered.
"Please help pray for the injured and the loss of lives due to suffocation," she said in a message to reporters.
The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since 23 May.
The president declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao last week and has warned it could become a haven for supporters fleeing Iraq and Syria.
Mr Dela Rosa said there had been no specific, credible terror threat in Manila so far.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump said Washington was closely monitoring what he described as a "terrorist" attack unfolding in Manila.
The US embassy in Manila told Americans there to exercise caution and to review their personal security.
Dozens of police trucks and a handful of huge Special Action Force vans and armoured personnel carriers lined side streets near the hotel, casino and shopping mall complex as the drama unfolded.
Many witnesses took the incident for a militant assault.
Marcel Navaro, a Resorts World employee, told DZMM radio he had returned from his break to find people fleeing in panic.
"Guests were screaming. We went to the basement locker room and hid there. People were screaming, guests and employees were in panic.
"When we smelled smoke, we decided to go for the exit in the car park. That's where we got out. Before we exited, we heard two gunshots and there was thick smoke on the ground floor."
Eyewitness Hessa Isabelle filmed the scene from a nearby balcony and described seeing "people screaming and running out of the building".
"People are being evacuated out of the building and there's smoke coming out, and they're saying that it's a terrorist attack," she said.
Resorts World Manila is currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men.— Resorts World Manila (@rwmanila) June 1, 2017
Gil Yonco, 54, stood weeping in the street about 5am. His daughter had been on the second floor inside Resorts World and called her father for help because she was being suffocated by smoke.
He tried calling back but there was no answer. "I am very worried as a parent, I need to find her," he said.
A casino worker named Julio from the third floor of the complex told DZMM radio he heard many gunshots and saw people running up the stairs from the second floor.
Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, told the station he saw a woman fall from an upper floor while trying to escape. "Several people were injured," he said.
- Reuters / BBC