At least 272 people have been killed in a fire at a prison in central Honduras, officials said Wednesday, indicating that the death toll could rise still further.
The fire broke out on Tuesday night at a jail in the town of Comayagua. Commenting on the number of casualties, Lucy Marder, head of forensic services in Comayagua, said: “This is a preliminary report, there could be a lot more deaths,” Reuters reported.
The facility, 140 kilometers north of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, held at least 800 inmates. Officials are investigating whether the blaze was caused by an electrical short-circuit or triggered by rioting prisoners, according to the Associated Press.
There were reports of shooting inside the jail late on Tuesday. It is feared that many inmates escaped during the fire, which took more than an hour to bring under control, the BBC reported.
Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said he witnessed “hellish” scenes while trying to fight the fire.
“Some 100 prisoners were burned to death or suffocated in their cells,” he said, adding that many inmates were trapped because the guard who had the key to their cells could not be located.
Local hospitals are treating dozens of people for burns and other injuries, with some of the injured being taken to Tegucigalpa for treatment.
Tuesday’s blaze was the third fatal prison fire in Honduras in recent years. In 2003 61 prisoners were killed in a fire at a jail in La Ceiba, while the following year 107 died in a fire in a San Pedro Sula prison, according to CNN.
Last April the US State Department published a report highlighting the appalling conditions in Honduras’ 24 prisons.