A sweeping fire killed more than 350 inmates at an overcrowded Honduran prison yesterday (15th). Many burnt to death as they screamed from their locked cells.
Hundreds of convicts from one of Latin America's most dangerous countries rioted in panic as they tried to flee the burning hallways and prison guards struggled in the smoke to find keys to free them.
The country's security ministry said 357 people were missing and presumed dead, although at least some of those included in the toll are likely to have used the fire to flee from the jail in the city of Comayagua.
Inmates punched through the ceiling as they scrambled to escape from cells packed with dozens of men. "We heard screaming from the people who caught on fire," said one, showing the fingers he fractured when pushing out panels in the roof.
Other prisoners - some heavily tattooed members of the 'maras', Honduras's brutally violent street gangs - carried the wounded through smoke-filled corridors to safety. Some fled into the communal showers and turned on the taps, hoping that the water would save them.
The severe overcrowding in the prison - more than 800 inmates were held in facilities designed to four only 400 - undoubtedly contributed to the death toll state the media.
Daniel Orellana, head of the Honduras prison system, said last night that authorities believed the flames were started by an inmate setting fire to his mattress in a crowded communal cell. "Some of his cellmates said that he screamed: 'We will all die here!' And in five minutes everything burned," Mr. Orellana said. He did not say whether the man had survived.
Meanwhile, Honduras President Porfirio Lobo has pledged a "full and transparent" investigation. He suspended local and national prison officials while the inquiry into the "unacceptable" tragedy at the jail in Comayagua was conducted.