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At least 350 dead in Honduras prison fire

February 15, 2012

COMAYAGUA, Honduras – At least 350 inmates were killed and dozens injured when a fire tore through a prison in central Honduras, the Central American country’s prisons director said Wednesday.

“We are pulling out bodies,” said prisons director Danilo Orellana.

“The situation is serious. Most have suffocated,” adding that the fire did not appear to have been caused by a riot.

The fire was believed to have broken out around 10:50 p.m. Tuesday, Orellana said, adding that investigators were looking into whether it was caused by an inmate or by a short circuit.

The prison, located some 90 kilometers north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, held around 850 prisoners.

Orellana added that official were already at work trying to determine what caused the blaze.

“We’re bringing in all of our forensic equipment,” he said.

Witnesses said some of the inmates escaped the blaze by jumping from the prison rooftop, and there were reports that some of them had fled the facility and were on the loose.

Meanwhile desperate relatives waited for word about the fate of their loved ones. At the break of dawn Wednesday there were already hundreds lined up at the prison gates.

“My brother Roberto Mejia was in unit six,” said an emotional Glenda Mejia.

“They’ve told me that the inmates from that unit are all dead,” she told AFP.

Next to her, Carlos Ramirez was waiting outside the facility for word about his brother Elwin, imprisoned on a murder conviction, who also was housed in unit six.

“I haven’t been told anything,” Carlos Ramirez said, his voice breaking.

It was the worst disaster to strike a penal facility in Honduras in years.

Latin American prisons are notoriously overcrowded, particularly in poor Central American states like Honduras, which are gripped by gang violence and drug trafficking.

The most recent similar disaster in Honduras, in May 2004, killed around 100 inmates during a fire at a prison in San Pedro Sula, which was blamed on structural problems at the facility.

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