Hundreds of Inmates Killed in Fire at Honduras Prison
A fire started by an inmate has torn 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.
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.
The blaze spread within minutes, killing about 100 inmates in their cells as firefighters struggled to find officials who had keys, Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said.
“We couldn’t get them out because we didn’t have the keys and couldn’t find the guards who had them,” Garcia said.
Others prisoners were set free by guards but died from the flames or smoke as they tried to flee into the fields surrounding the facility, where prisoners convicted of crimes grow corn and beans on a state-run farm. Rescuers carried shirtless, semi-conscious prisoners from the facility by their arms and legs.
One hauled a victim away from the fire by piggyback.
A prisoner identified as Silverio Aguilar told HRN Radio that he first knew something was wrong when he heard a scream of “Fire! fire!”
“For a while, nobody listened. But after a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, a guard appeared with keys and let us out,” he said.
He said there had been 60 prisoners packed into his cell.
Some 475 people escaped and 356 are missing and presumed dead, said Hector Ivan Mejia, a spokesman for the Honduras Security Ministry. He said 21 people had been injured.
Honduras has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and its overcrowded and dilapidated prisons have been hit by a string of deadly riots and fires in recent years. Officials have repeatedly pledged to improve conditions, only to say they don’t have sufficient funds.
Outraged relatives of dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loves ones, witnesses told The Associated Press. The crowds were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.
Channel 5 television showed dozens of inmates’ relatives hurling rocks at officers.
“We want to see the body,” said Juan Martinez, whose son was reported dead. “We’ll be here until we get to do that.”
The prison housed people convicted of serious crimes such as murder, Danilo Orellana, director of the national prison system, told The Associated Press.
Fire officials said the fire started around 10:50 p.m. Tuesday when the inmate set his bedding alight.
“Some of his cellmates said that he screamed: ‘We will all die here!’ And in five minutes everything burned,” Orellana said.
He did not identify the man or speculate about his motivation. Leonel Silva, fire chief in Comayagua, a town 90 miles (140 kilometers) north of the capital, confirmed Orellana’s account to reporters on the scene.
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