Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Honduras prison fire kills more than 350 inmates

A senior official at the attorney general's office, Danelia Ferrera, said 357 people died in the blaze that began late on Tuesday night at the prison in Comayagua, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) north of the capital Tegucigalpa.

It was one of the worst prison fires ever in Latin America, and local radio reports said many of the inmates were burned to death inside their cells.

"We heard screaming from the people who caught on fire," one prisoner told reporters, showing the fingers he fractured in his escape from the fire. "We had to push up the roof panels to get out."

Worried and angry relatives surrounded the prison on Wednesday morning with some throwing rocks at police and trying to force their way into the prison. Police responded by firing shots into the air and tear gas at the protesters, who were mostly women.

There was confusion over the death toll, with some reports that the 357 figure included more than 100 inmates who escaped during the fire and others that the dead and missing totaled 402 people - almost half the prison's inmates.Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations, and there are frequent riots and clashes between members of rival street gangs in its overcrowded prisons.

Across the country jails are often filled double to their capacity, with around 800 inmates crammed into the Comayagua prison alone.

The country is also plagued by violent gangs known as 'maras', which started in the United States and then spread down into Central America, with members covered in distinctive tattoos.

This latest incident follows a similar fire in the textile manufacturing town of San Pedro Sula several years ago, where 100 prisoners were killed.

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