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COMAYAGUA, Honduras--A massive fire raged through an overcrowded prison in Honduras, killing more than 350 inmates, many of them trapped and screaming inside their cells. The blaze began late on Tuesday night at the prison in Comayagua, about 75 km (45 miles) north of the capital Tegucigalpa and killed 359 people, said Danelia Ferrera, a senior official at the attorney general's office. "It's a terrible scene. Our staff went into the cells and the bodies are charred, most of them are unrecognizable," Ferrera told Reuters, adding that officials would have to use dental records and DNA in many cases to identify those killed.

Ravaged by violent street gangs, brutal drug traffickers and rampant poverty, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations. The cramped Honduran jails suffer frequent riots and clashes between rival gangs, although it was not yet clear if the Comayagua blaze--one of the worst prisons fires ever in Latin America--was started deliberately or was an accident.

At least eight surviving prisoners said one of the inmat es had set fire to a mattress, one government official said ,speaking on condition of anonymity. Chaos erupted as the blaze swept through the prison. "We heard screaming from the people who caught on fire," one prisoner told reporters, showing fingers he fractured escaping the blaze. "We had to push up the roof panels to get out." Injured inmates were filmed being carried out of the jail, some crawling with visible burns. By the time Red Cross volunteer Jose Manuel Gomez arrived, all he could for many was gather up their remains. "We're placing them into bags in parts because when we grab them, they disintegrate," he said. It was the third major prison fire in Honduras since 2003 with dilapidated jails packed at more than double their capacity across the Central American nation. Worried and angry relatives surrounded the prison on Wednesday morning, at one point throwing rocks at police and trying to force their way inside the prison. Police responded by firing shots into the air and shooting tear gas at protesters, most of whom were women. President Porfirio Lobo said he had suspended the director of the Comayagua prison and the head of the national prison system to ensure a thorough investigation.

He promised to "take urgent measures to deal with this tragedy, which has plunged all Hondurans into mourning." Police reported that one of the dead was a woman who had stayed overnight at the prison and the rest were inmates, but noted some of those presumed dead could have escaped. Honduras' notoriously violent street gangs, known as 'maras', gained power inside Hispanic neighborhoods in the United States in the 1980s and then spread down into Central America. Their members wear distinctive tattoos and are involved in drugs and weapons trafficking, armed robbery and protection rackets.

A local police chief read out the names of 457 survivors outside the prison on Wednesday, but relatives still clamored for more information. "This is desperate, they won't tell us anything and I think my husband is dead," a crying Gregoria Zelaya told Canal 5 TV as she stood by a chain link fence. Officials were not sure of the cause of the fire. "There is one hypothesis that is was a short circuit in the electrical system, or (an inmate) set fire to a mattress," said Ferrera who was at the scene. "But there is not a definitive cause yet, we are still investigating."

2 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    fuck the police !!