Tegucigalpa, Feb 16 (IANS/EFE) The fire that killed more than 300 inmates at the Comayagua prison farm in central Honduras will be investigated with full transparency and “international observation”, President Porfirio Lobo said Wednesday.
The fire may have killed more than 350 inmates based on the number of prisoners who failed to respond when a roll call was conducted, officials said.
The death toll may be 357, prosecutor’s office spokesman Melvin Duarte told EFE, but Security Secretary Pompeyo Bonilla said 272 deaths had been confirmed.
“We will conduct an investigation to determine what caused this sad and unacceptable tragedy, and find out who is responsible,” Lobo said in a nationwide address carried by radio and television stations.
Bonilla has been instructed to suspend the officials in charge of the Comayagua prison farm, the president said.
The officials who run the prison system at the national level will also be suspended “to guarantee a totally transparent investigative process”, Lobo said.
“This is a day of deep sadness for Honduras, we deeply regret what happened and I want to express my support for the families of our countrymen who lost their lives at the Comayagua prison,” the president said.
Several inmates injured in the fire were taken back to the prison Wednesday after being treated at hospitals.
Officials have not said how many inmates were hurt in the fire, but media reports put the number at about 30, with most suffering burns and fractures when they jumped from the prison’s roof to avoid dying in the blaze.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Security Secretariat spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia told reporters the blaze was “apparently started by a short-circuit”.
The prison housed 853 inmates, which was well above the facility’s capacity, Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio said Wednesday.
The blaze started around 10.55 p.m. Tuesday, Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said.
Flames spread through one of the two cell blocks at the prison, located about 80 km from Tegucigalpa, Mejia said.
Fires and other incidents at Honduran prisons have resulted in a large loss of life on several occasions in the past decade.
A fire May 17, 2004, killed 107 inmates at the prison in the northern city of San Pedro Sula.
Officials blamed structural problems at the prison, a common situation in the Central American country’s penitentiaries, for the blaze.