Honduras prison blaze: 'I will set this place on fire and we are all going to die'

Inmate who started inferno told provincial governor what he planned to do

Recrimination and horror hung over the scorched remains of a farm penitentiary in Honduras yesterday after a blaze killed an estimated 358 inmates in the worst prison fire the world has seen in a century.

The fury of relatives who swarmed the site for news about loved ones in the aftermath of Tuesday night's tragedy was compounded by news that at least half of the 856 inmates there had not been convicted of a crime or, in some cases, even charged. A US military base nearby with firefighting equipment was never asked for help.

It also emerged that the prison inmate who started the blaze had phoned the local provincial governor minutes before. "I will set this place on fire and we are all going to die," he yelled, lighting his mattress two minutes later.

Additionally, even though a local fire brigade arrived within minutes thanks to a call from the governor, they were prevented for 30 minutes from going inside by prison guards who feared they were dealing with a break-out.

The terror of the inferno was still being told last night by survivors and rescue workers sent in to the drag the last victims from the ruined prison. Numerous corpses were located in bathrooms, crammed into shower stands and laundry tubs where water had provided no protection. While some had managed to scale walls and punch through the corrugated tin roof others didn't make it; their bodies became fused to the tin by the heat. "It was something horrible," said one survivor Eladio Chica, 40, who was expected later yesterday to testify in court on what he had witnessed. "I only saw flames, and when we got out, men were being burned, up against the bars, they were stuck to them."

Some men managed to get out and flee through the surrounding corn fields. A few, who were on fire themselves, fell in the fields.

That fewer than half the inmates had been convicted of a crime was revealed in Honduran government documents provided recently to the United Nations and seen by the Associated Press. While Honduras has the worst murder rate in Latin America, it has earned an unwelcome reputation for repression and mistreatment of prisoners and suspects. A Honduran can be imprisoned for having a tattoo if police think it indicates gang membership.

The stricken Comayagua prison, meanwhile, may have boasted the most inhumane conditions of any in the country. The UN documents showed that it had no mental or medical healthcare on the site and that it was built to hold a maximum of 500 inmates. For the more than 800 prisoners who were inside this week there were only 52 guards by day and 12 during the night. The prison's budget allowed for only $1 (65p) a day for each prisoner for food.

The tragedy threatens to catapult Hondurans into fresh political turmoil only two years after a coup in the country. "We're talking about a total breakdown of the state," warned Dana Frank, an expert on Latin American affairs at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most