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Screaming for their lives, trapped inmates were caught in their cells as a fire swept through a Honduran prison, killing as many as 356 people.

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The fire raged out of control Tuesday night at a prison in Comayagua, a town 90 miles north of the Central American country’s capital, Tegucigalpa. The prison holds about 800 inmates.

According to the Associated Press, Lucy Marder, chief of forensic medicine for the prosecutors’ office, gave the grave death count to reporters in a news conference.

Fire department spokesman Josue Garcia described the blaze he saw as “horrific,” saying inmates rioted in attempts to escape. He said “some 100 prisoners were burned to death or suffocated in their cells.”

“We couldn’t get them out because we didn’t have the keys and couldn’t find the guards who had them,” Garcia said.

Radio reports from Comayagua said dozens of prisoners were burned beyond recognition and the prison was destroyed by the flames.

Officials still don’t know what caused the blaze, but investigators believe the fire was triggered by rioting prisoners or by an electrical short-circuit, said Danilo Orellana, head of the national prison system.

It was feared that many inmates escaped during the fire, said Hector Ivan Mejia, spokesman for the security ministry.

The hospital treated about 40 inmates with serious burns and another 40 were sent by ambulance to Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa.


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