News24

Honduras prison fire toll set to rise

2012-02-15 15:00

Tegucigalpa - A massive fire swept through a prison in Honduras, killing more than 200 people, and the death toll could rise further, officials said on Wednesday.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations, and struggles with youth street gangs in overcrowded jails.

Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said more than 200 people were killed in the fire that began late on Tuesday night, and local forensic officials said at least 272 were dead.

"This is a preliminary report, there could be a lot more deaths," said Lucy Marder, head of forensic services in the town of Comayagua, about 75km north of the capital Tegucigalpa.

Local radio station Radio Globo said the death toll was over 350 with some bodies found still locked in their cells.

Gunshots

Soldiers, police and anxious relatives surrounded the Comayagua prison, which houses more than 800 inmates

"I am looking for my brother, we don't know what's happened to him and they won't let us in," Arlen Gomez told local radio.

Local firemen said they were prevented from entering the prison due to gunshots.

But Daniel Orellana, head of the prison system, said there was no riot.

"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 said.