A fire at an overcrowded prison in central Honduras has killed more than 350 inmates, officials said Wednesday, with many dying trapped inside their cells.
The fire broke out on Tuesday night at a jail in the town of Comayagua. The attorney general's office said that 357 people had died in the blaze, Reuters reported.
The facility, 140 kilometers north of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, held at least 800 inmates. Officials are investigating whether the fire 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.
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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.
Danelia Ferrera, a senior official at the attorney general's office, told Reuters, "It's a terrible scene ... Our staff went into the cells and the bodies are charred, most of them are unrecognizable," stating that most would have to be identified through dental records and DNA samples.
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.
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This video, obtained through Reuters, shows the scenes of chaos outside the prison as family members clash with the police: