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Prison Fire Kills Hundreds In Honduras

A woman cries after she was informed of the death of her son, who was jailed at the National Prison compound in Comayagua, Honduras.
Orlando Sierra
AFP/Getty Images
A woman cries after she was informed of the death of her son, who was jailed at the National Prison compound in Comayagua, Honduras.

A fire that swept through a prison in Honduras overnight has resulted in death of more than 300 people.

The AP reports that number was given by Lucy Marder, chief of forensic medicine for the prosecutors' office, during a press conference.

La Prensa, the largest daily in Honduras, reportsthe fire started at about 10:50 p.m. last night, after what the paper called a "mutiny" erupted in the prison.

The AP spoke to a fire department spokesman, who described a "hellish" scene. Josue Garcia told the AP that many prisoners "burned to death or suffocated in their cells."

Quoting a prison's director, the AFP reports the fire was not caused by a riot. The wire service adds:

"The blaze was believed to have broken out around 10:50 pm Tuesday (0450 GMT Wednesday), Orellana said, adding that investigators were looking into whether it was caused by an inmate or by a short circuit.

"The prison held around 850 prisoners."

The BBC spoke to some of the relatives of the prisoners, who said many of the inmates escaped the flames by breaking through the roof and jumping from the building. Others "died trapped in their cells and were burned beyond recognition."

La Prensa reports this is yet another in long list of prison revolts in Honduras. The last one, reports the paper, happened on Oct. 15 and killed 9 inmates.

Update at 12:12 p.m. ET. 'My Heart Is With The Families':

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa offered his condolences to the family members of those who died.

"My deepest sympathies go to those families who cry today," Sosa said in a press conference according to La Prensa. "My heart is is with the families."

Sosa also announced that a Chilean team would come to the country to help with identifying the remains.

Update at 10:23 a.m. ET. The Scene Outside The Prison:

Xiomara Orellana, a reporter for the La Prensa, is outside the prison in Comayagua. She tweeted a picture that shows a mass of people gathered outside, waiting for information. She reports that extra police have been ordered to the prison.

Orellana says at one point the crowd was so desperate for information, they tore through the gates and police had to fire tear gas. Orellana says the crowd is under control now.

The paper has published a list of survivors on its website.

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET. 356 Missing:

The AP reports that 356 prisoners are missing and presumed dead, according Hector Ivan Mejia, a spokesman for the Honduras Security Ministry.

Update at 9:14 a.m. ET. Couldn't Find The Keys:

The AP has spoken to a fire department spokesman who gave them more detail on what exactly happend at the prison.

Josue Garcia said the scene was "horrific" and that they couldn't rescue inmates because they didn't have keys to their cells and "couldn't find the guards who had them."

The AP reports that hundreds of family members have been streaming to the Santa Teresa Hospital in Camayagua, hoping to learn the fate of their loved ones.

Update at 9:07 a.m. ET. Worst Prison Tragedy In 26 Years:

La Prensa reports that last night's fire will undoubtably go down in history as one of the deadliest in a Latin American prison.

The paper reports you have to look to 1986 to find a prison incident as deadly. That year, at least 250 people were killed in a coordinated mutiny in Lima, Peru.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.