Of the 856 souls crammed into a Honduran prison that became a fiery inferno Tuesday night, more than half had never been charged, let alone convicted. Under the country's strict anti-gang laws, a simple tattoo was cause for incarceration, a practice the UN calls a violation of international law. Those who lived told the ghastly tale of screaming men being burned alive as the fire ripped through the overcrowded prison, of men climbing the rafters in a desperate attempt to break through the metal roofing—some of their bodies were later found fused to it. At least 358 have been confirmed dead.
The prison, which was built to house 500 inmates and which was staffed by just 12 guards at night, was ripe for just such a deadly disaster, reports the AP. "Conditions at Comayagua? I'd have to say among the worst in Honduras," says the president of Prison Fellowship International. "It was very congested, there's not enough food, it's dangerous and dirty." A recent State Department report knocked Honduras' human rights record with prisoners, and prison officials who scrambled to find keys to free inmates as the blaze ravaged summoned help in the form of flashlights and Glowsticks—not firefighters. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo yesterday suspended the national prison system director and several top officials. (Read more Honduras stories.)