Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hundreds killed in Honduras prison fire (Updated)

In what is being reported as “one of the worst prison fires ever in Latin America,” at least 357 people died after a massive blaze swept through a Comayagua prison on Tuesday night.

Officials including one speaking in the below video said that most of the dead were “burnt, carbonized, or asphyxiated” due to the acrid smoke:

The exact cause of the fire in the prison has yet to be determined though prison service head Daniel Orellana claimed that one hypothesis is that a prisoner set fire to the mattress in his cell. Yet Orellana denied rumors that a riot in the prison occurred before the fire.

Today about 300 inmates’ relatives surrounded the Comayagua prison seeking answers over the state of their loved ones who ether died or are disappeared. Police fired tear gas after some relatives attempted in desperation to break through the prison gates.

“We understand the families’ pain but we have to go through with the process according to the law”, said Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla to the Honduran press.

A few of the survivors accused the prison guards of not opening all of the cells to permit inmates to flee the fire. These allegations are unproven though Comayagua firefighters' spokesman Josue Garcia noted, “we couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them.”

The Comayagua prison housed approximately 850 inmates, more than double its original capacity. Overcrowding is one of the worst problems in Latin American prisons including in Honduras according to a recent U.S. State Department report:
Prisoners "suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and lack of adequate sanitation," it cited human rights groups as saying.

"Authorities did not provide adequate food or other basic necessities. The ready access of prisoners to weapons and other contraband, impunity for inmate attacks against nonviolent prisoners, inmate escapes, and threats by inmates and their associates outside prisons against prison officials and their families contributed to an unstable and dangerous penitentiary system environment," the department said in its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
As we mentioned last week, U.N. human rights representative for South America Amerigo Incalcaterra decried the “alarming pattern of prison violence in the region” due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Update: According to the Honduran press, the death toll has increased to at least 364 deaths while authorities believe that between eighty and ninety inmates may have escaped amidst the chaos caused by the fire.

In a televised speech this afternoon Honduran president Porfirio Lobo suspended prison officials as part of a "totally transparent" investigation into the fire. Meanwhile, a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will be dispatched to Honduras in order to conduct their own probe.

Video Source – YouTube via telegraphtv

Online Sources (including Updates) – Milenio, MSNBC, BBC News, CNN, The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, La Prensa,,

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