16 Feb 2012

Hundreds crowd Honduran jail waiting for news

7:29 pm on 16 February 2012

Hundreds of Hondurans are still crowding around a jail in Camayagua waiting for news of their relatives, a day after a fire that killed at least 350 prisoners.

A BBC correspondent at the jail says the scene remains one of confusion and desperation.

Bodies and injured prisoners are still being brought out, while forensic teams work to discover the cause of the fire.

Professor Dinah Shelton, of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, says she understands it is Honduran government policy not to release prisoners when a fire occurs.

Officials suspended

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has suspended the officials in charge of the national prison system after the fire.

Firefighters say many prisoners were burned alive or asphyxiated in their cells because keys to their locked cells could not be found.

Mr Lobo says he is determined to ensure a full and transparent investigation into the cause of the disaster and find out who is responsible.

He also expressed his sympathies to the families of those who died.

Trapped in their cells

Prisoners were burned or suffocated to death in their cells at the National Prison in Comayagua, about 80km north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Some prisoners escaped the blaze by breaking through the roof to jump from the building.

Officials are investigating whether an electrical fault caused the blaze.

The fire broke out late on Tuesday night and took more than an hour to be brought under control.

The prison was holding more than 800 inmates.

Relatives gathered outside the prison on Wednesday to try to get information.

Honduran media report there was a riot before the fire broke out, but the prison director denies that.

The Christian Science Monitor news website says the fire is the third in a Honduran prison since 2003.