A fire swept through the female section of a crowded children's shelter near Guatemala City early Wednesday and officials said at least 22 girls died and dozens more were injured. Photos from inside the shelter showed blue sheets covering sneaker-clad bodies and bits of foam mattresses in what appeared to be a smoke-stained dormitory room. Weeping, distraught relatives waited outside the walled facility for news of their children. The head of Guatemala's social welfare agency, Carlos Rodas, said youths at the shelter started rioting Tuesday in an effort to escape, the AP reports. Complaints about abuse and living conditions at the overcrowded shelter have been frequent.
Then on Wednesday, about 9am, "Some of the adolescents lit their mattresses on fire," Rodas said. A 15-year-old girl being treated for minor injuries said the uprising followed rumors of an escape attempt. Some boys, or even young men who were still housed at the center after turning 18, entered the girls' area, she said. She said she fled to her dormitory's roof with others fearing the boys would attack them. Two hospitals said they received 41 injured girls between the ages of 13 and 17, many with second- and third-degree burns. Rodas said the shelter, known as the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home, had an official capacity of 500, but was housing at least 800 youths.