An early morning fire at an overcrowded prison in northern Honduras on Monday consumed a cellblock housing gang members, killing 103, many as they slept, and injuring 25 others.
The fire was sparked by an electrical short circuit in a cellblock occupied by 186 prisoners, Police Commissioner Wilmer Torres said. Some prisoners burned to death, while others died from smoke inhalation.
"We woke up with our clothes and our beds in flames," Jose Mauricio Lopez, a prisoner, told a radio station from his hospital bed.
Another prisoner, identified as Antonio Flores, said he heard an explosion "and then the cellblock caught immediately on fire."
Firefighters brought the blaze under control quickly, but it had already consumed a large part of the prison in San Pedro Sula, 110 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, by the time they arrived. There were no reports of escapes, Torres said.
Many gang members started attacking firefighters, prompting guards to fire in the air "to prevent a massive prisoner escape," said a spokesman for the prison, Jose Bustillo.
But one prisoner, Pablo Cardona, said the guards "fired at us repeatedly from outside the cellblock to stop us from leaving, despite our cries for help."
Hundreds of relatives rushed to the prison seeking information as officials lined up victims' bodies in rows on the ground. San Pedro Sula Mayor Oscar Kilgore said the city would donate coffins for the dead.
Vice President Vicente Williams and the defense and interior secretaries went to the scene, and President Ricardo Maduro cut short a European state trip.
It was the second deadly fire in Honduras's outdated and overcrowded prisons in less than 14 months. In April 2003, some prisoners were locked in their cells, doused with gasoline and set on fire during an uprising at El Porvenir prison. Nearly 70 people, including guards and visitors, died.
Many of the prisoners in San Pedro Sula were detained during the country's recent crackdown on gang violence. In August, Honduras passed legislation outlawing gangs and prescribing sentences of up to 12 years for gang leaders and lesser terms for members.
There are more than 100,000 gang members belonging to 500 different gangs in Honduras. All the prisoners in the destroyed cellblock belonged to the Mara Salvatrucha, one of the most violent.
The new law exacerbated the country's prison overcrowding problem. Honduras's penitentiaries comprise 27 old buildings housing 13,000 prisoners, twice their capacity.
The prison in San Pedro was built to hold 800 prisoners but held 1,960, Torres said.