Honduras prison fire kills more than 350 inmates

Prisoners pleaded for help as they were engulfed by choking smoke and flames.

Written by Agencies | Comayagua | Published: February 16, 2012 10:06:27 am

A fire swept through a Honduran prison killing more than 350 people,officials said,as rescue teams found the charred bodies of inmates trapped in their cells by the inferno.

Survivors described wrenching scenes as prisoners pleaded for help as they were engulfed by choking smoke and flames yesterday,some unable to flee because they were still shackled to the bars of their cells in what is the world’s worst prison blaze 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 after the blaze in the jail in the central city of Comayagua.

Some of the inmates escaped by jumping from the prison rooftop,and there were reports that some had fled the crowded facility and were on the loose.

Those who died were killed mostly 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 told reporters at the prison.

The inferno broke out at around 0450 GMT yesterday and took about three hours to bring 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 and 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,23,said,speaking at Comayagua’s Santa Teresa hospital where he was being treated for a broken ankle after jumping to safety from a wall.

Fabricio Contreras,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 yesterday to remove the charred remains,as distraught relatives wept openly,clinging to each other as they mourned the deaths of their loved ones.

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