At least 357 people are reported to have lost their lives in Comayagua, Honduras, during one of the worst prison fires ever in Latin America.
Hundreds of inmates have been hospitalized with severe injuries as a result of the fire that broke out at around 11pm last night. Danilo Orellana, the responsible for Prisons in Honduras, dismissed the claims that an inmate riot was the cause of the tragic blaze. “The police helped prisoners to get out to the yard,” he said.
An electrical fault is believed to have triggered the fatal short-circuit. Mr. Orellana said that the fire broke out on Tuesday night and spread quickly in the building, burning alive hundreds of inmates trapped in their cells or asphyxiating them to death.
The number of casualties continues to remain uncertain since many inmates are still unaccounted for, according to the head of Comayagua Fire Fighter Squad, Leonel Silva.
Around 850 prisoners crowded the penitentiary’s sectors at the time of the fire, well above its actual capacity.
Yet, authorities haven’t ruled out the idea that some of the inmates might have taken advantage of the situation for a nocturnal escape via the prison roof.
Survivors suffering severe burnings were taken to the near Escuela de Tegucigalpa and Santa Teresa de Comayagua hospitals.
Minister of Security, Pompeyo Bonilla, indicated that number of casualties “is more than 200, and authorities still have to identify them.”
The prison’s perimeter has been heavily militarized by the army, which is trying to keep inmates’ relatives gathering at the prison’s gates outside the detention centre.
The prison is located 5km away from the US air force base of Palmerola and few hundred meters away from the main highway linking Honduras financial center, San Pedro Sula, with Tegucigalpa, where the government is based.
In May 2004, a similar blaze killed a hundred inmates in San Pedro Sula’s penitentiary, one of the 24 jails of the country. The fire was then caused by structural problems in the prison, according to authorities.
Honduras is a country plagued by criminality, held hostage by the violent gangs known as maras – infamously known for their distinctive tattoos as well as for their brutality
There are currently 24 state penitentiaries in the country, with a capacity for 8,000 people. Yet, the prison population exceeds 13,000 units.