The death toll in the horrific fire in Honduras prison that broke Tuesday night has climbed to 358, according to Honduran officials. Aptly called one of the world’s deadliest prison fires in a century, the fire was started by an inmate as a suicide attempt.
A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Comayagua, Honduras, said in a statement that the death toll included 115 bodies that were brought to the morgue in the capital of Tegucigalpa Tuesday night, 238 of those brought in the morning, and two prisoners who died in hospital.
Supreme Court Justice Richard Ordonez, who is leading the investigation, told reporters that the farm prison in the Comayagua province north of the capital was overcrowded. The prison was built in the 1940s for 400 inmates but housed 856 inmates. The inferno broke out at around 10:50pm Tuesday, and burned for around three hours before it was brought under control.
At first, Honduran officials were unclear about the cause of the deadly fire, with some believing that it was initiated by a short circuit. But soon afterwards, state Governor Paola Castro revealed in a statement that she had received a phone call from an inmate, telling her that another prisoner had set the fire in a suicide attempt. The motive remained uncertain but there was speculation his girlfriend had broken up with him.
Survivors of the blaze told investigators that the unidentified inmate yelled, "I will set this place on fire and we are all going to die!" as he set his bedding in flames late Tuesday night. The fire quickly burned through the crowded barracks with screaming prisoners rushing to the bathrooms to escape the fire.
Meanwhile, rescuers desperately searched for keys to unlock the prison doors. "We couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them," Comayagua fire department spokesman, Josue Garcia, said.
Once the prison doors were unlatched, rescue workers found the charred bodies of prisoners lying in the form of piles. Officials said the bodies were so badly burned it could take weeks to identify them.
"It was something horrible," said survivor Eladio Chica, 40. "I only saw flames, and when we got out, men were being burned, up against the bars, they were stuck to them."
Some survivors escaped into the fields surrounding the Honduras prison, but succumbed to asphyxiation after inhaling too much smoke. Reportedly, six prisoners drowned after trying to seek refuge in a nearby water tank.
State Governor Paola Castro said Wednesday in a statement, “We will be carrying out a full investigation to determine what caused this sad and unacceptable tragedy, and to determine who shoulders the blame.”