Honduras mourns prison fire deaths

2012-02-16 14:45
Gallery  |  click on thumbnail to view larger image

Honduras prison fire

Hundreds were killed and dozens injured after a fire broke out in a Honduran prison. See all the pictures here.

Comayagua - Honduras on Thursday mourned the more than 350 people who died when fire swept through an overcrowded prison in the Central American country, leaving charred bodies trapped in locked cells.

Survivors described wrenching scenes of prisoners engulfed by smoke and flames pleading for help, some unable to flee because they were shackled to the bars of their cells in what is the world's worst prison fire in a decade.

Those who were able "tried to save themselves by hurling themselves into the shower, sinks" and any other source of water they could find, one survivor said, while others escaped by jumping from the prison rooftop.

There were reports that others fled the crowded facility in the central Honduran city of Comayagua and were on the loose. Honduras - like much of Central America - has been gripped by drug violence in recent years.

Most of the prison fire deaths were caused by smoke inhalation.

"More than 350 dead, it is an approximation. We cannot rule out that it could be a bit higher, but we are checking so we can give an official and precise toll for this tragedy," Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said.

Full investigation

The enormity of the disaster led President Porfirio Lobo to suspend Honduras's top prison officials, including the corrections chief, as well as those at the Comayagua penitentiary, while an investigation is under way.

"We will be carrying out a full investigation to determine what caused this sad and unacceptable tragedy, and to determine who shoulders the blame," Lobo said, adding the officials were suspended to ensure transparency in the probe.

Lobo replaced corrections chief Danilo Orellana with his deputy Abraham Figueroa.

The inferno broke out on Tuesday night (local time), and burned for around three hours before it was brought under control.

Officials were unclear about the cause, at first believing that the blaze was sparked by a short circuit. But later they did not rule out that the fire might have been deliberately set by inmates.

Victor Sevilla said he was haunted by the desperate cries for help from his fellow prisoners trapped in their cells, who could not get out in time.

"I woke up with all the screaming from my fellow inmates, who were already breaking the wood and zinc ceiling," Sevilla, aged 23, said, as he was being treated for a broken ankle after jumping to safety from a wall.

Charred remains

Fabricio Contreras, aged 34, said he was also woken up by the commotion. The prisoners headed to the main gate, "but nobody opened it", he said.

"The prison guards were firing in the air because they thought it was a breakout," he said.

Prison officials and rescue workers dressed in white hazard suits moved in on Wednesday to remove the charred remains, as distraught relatives wept openly, clinging to each other as they mourned the deaths of their loved ones.

Many blamed prison authorities for moving too slowly to save them. "My son died of asphyxiation there," said Leonidas Medina, aged 69, at a local hospital.

"The guards wouldn't open the door and they [the inmates] burned to death," he said. "They wouldn't have died if they had just opened the doors."

Prisons in Honduras - and throughout Latin America - are notoriously overcrowded. The country's 24 penal facilities officially have room for 8 000 inmates, but actually house 13 000.

Probe launched

The prison in Comayagua, located around 90km north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, held almost double its official inmate capacity.

The facility is also just 500m from a highway that links San Pedro Sula, the economic centre of Honduras, with the capital.

The Organisation of American States in Washington said it was launching a probe into the disaster.

Governor Paola Castro said her office received a phone call from someone claiming to be an inmate, telling her that another prisoner had set the fire in a suicide bid.

Desperate relatives, frustrated at being left in the dark about the fate of their loved ones, clashed with police and then stormed the prison gates early on Wednesday.

Families frustrated

Security forces fired into the air in a bid to stop the unrest, but the relatives burst through a locked gate and flooded into the facility, where they gathered in a front courtyard.

"My brother Roberto Mejia was in unit six," an emotional Glenda Mejia said. "They've told me that the inmates from that unit are all dead."

Officials here expressed sympathy with the relatives' frustration, but called for patience.

"We understand the pain of the families, but we have to follow a process under the law," Bonilla said. "We call for calm. It is a very difficult situation."

Read more on:    honduras  |  fires
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Music
 

17 photo illusions that look so real

What if they aren’t illusions? What if that dog really has a human foot – then what?

 
 

For chic geeks...

It’s THIS easy for someone to steal your ATM pin!
Check out the speed of this robo-cheetah!
New GIF keyboard on iOS for added fun!
Puppy goes crazy over iPad game

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a tendency to fight against the current today but this will just use up a lot of energy and not get you very far. You...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.