2012-02-17 / World

Rage grows over deadly Honduran prison fire

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — As workers cleaned up the rubble of the century’s deadliest prison fire, a collective rage built among relatives who gathered at the morgue and said the official explanation of a mattress fire was absurd.

Details of the investigation remained thin, and mystery swirled around the possible cause, from a crazed inmate who set fire to his bedding to rumors that gas cans were found inside and that guards deliberately set the blaze, whose death toll rose to 356 when a 31-year-old prisoner died in a hospital early today.

Family members said guards fired on prisoners to keep them from fleeing the flames, though guards and firefighters said they were shots in the air to summon help and to respond to what they thought was a prison break.

The attorney general’s office said it was investigating all angles.

“It’s impossible to believe that prisoners set the fire themselves when they too were going to die,” said Felix Armando Cardona, 56, whose son, Luis Armando Cardona, 28, died in the blaze that broke out in Comayagua prison late Tuesday night.

In Geneva, the U. N.’s human rights office said today that an independent probe is needed and that Honduras must prevent a recurrence since it was the third fatal prison fire in a Honduran prison in a decade.

From the time firefighters received a call at 10:59 p.m., what should have been a rescue became a catastrophe.

Six guards were on duty, four in towers overlooking the prison and two overseeing 852 people crowded into a facility built for half that number. Some 57 percent had yet to be convicted, either awaiting trial or being held as suspected gang members.

Survivors said they watched helplessly as the guard who had the keys fled without unlocking their cells.

“He threw the keys on the floor in panic,” said Hector Daniel Martinez, held as a homicide suspect.

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