Honduras Prison Fire: Hundreds Killed, Missing, Numbers Rising
A fire that broke out Tuesday evening in a Comayagua Prison has killed at least 300 while others are still missing.
A fire started by an inmate tore through a severely overcrowded Honduran prison, burning and suffocating inmates in their locked cells and killing as many as 356 people in one of the world's deadliest prison fires in a century, authorities said Wednesday.
Officials of the Comayagua Prison in Honduras have confirmed that at least 300 prisoners have died in a fire that erupted on Tuesday evening.
A further 56 inmates, out of the 853 in the prison, are missing and presumed dead.
The local governor, a former prison employee, told reporters that an inmate called her moments before the fire and said he was going to set the facility on fire and kill everyone inside.
Survivors told investigators that an unidentified inmate screamed "We will all die here!" as he lit fire to his bedding late Tuesday night in the prison in the central town of Comayagua. The lockup housed people convicted of serious crimes such as homicide and armed robbery.
Comayagua firefighters' spokesman Josue Garcia said there were "hellish" scenes at the prison and that desperate inmates had rioted in a bid to escape the flames.
"We couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them," he said.
One prisoner, who managed to escape, later told reporters that he first had heard "the screams of the ones (inmates) on fire and everyone just started fearing for their lives".
"The only thing that we were able to do was start breaking the roof apart so we could go out from above. We started ripping apart the ceiling above us."
Lucy Marder, chief of forensic medicine for the prosecutor's office, said she believed the death toll would rise and it would take at least three months to identify victims, some burned beyond recognition, because DNA tests will be required.
Honduran media reported that there had been a riot in the prison before the fire broke out.
Prison service head Daniel Orellana denied this.
"We have two hypotheses. One is that a prisoner set fire to a mattress and the other one is that there was a short-circuit in the electrical system," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Prisons in Honduras, which has the world's highest murder rate, are often seriously overcrowded and hold many gang members. Honduras has 24 prisons, 23 for men or both genders, and one exclusively for women. In December, the total prison population was 11,846 of which 411 were women.