- (Photo: Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas)
A prison fire in Honduras that killed an estimated 300-350 inmates and left many others injured reportedly has also claimed the lives of hundreds of Christians and several pastors inside the building.
The Comayagua, Honduras fire department managed to put out the fire Tuesday night that blazed through the overcrowded prison, but not before the flames caused a very high number of casualties – officials are still recovering and identifying bodies, but by all accounts it will be remembered as the deadliest prison fire in over a century.
The victims either burned to death or were asphyxiated in their cells, according to prison officials. Several were taken to various hospitals, and television footage showed a chaotic scene as the rush for survivors continued.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but reports claim that 180 to 200 out of the 852 inmates at the prison were Christians, many of whom gathered regularly with other prisoners in a small chapel in the middle of the prison grounds. The chapel was destroyed by the flames, and it is believed that several pastors who converted while in the church and spread the word of God among the inmates have lost their lives in the fire.
A number of prison guards had even turned to Christ when listening to the pastors preach, according to CBN.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press revealed that many of the inmates had not even been charged or convicted of crimes. More than half of the prison's population were awaiting trial or simply being held as suspects.
The international community has expressed condolences but also criticized the Honduras government for its inadequate prison conditions.
"Conditions at Comayagua? I'd have to say among the worst in Honduras," said Ron W. Nikkel, president of Prison Fellowship International. "It was very congested, there's not enough food, it's dangerous and dirty," he described the facility, recalling a visit he had made in 2005.
The U.S. State Department has also questioned the harsh conditions prisoners were forced to live in, citing severe overcrowding, malnutrition, and lack of adequate sanitation.
Survivors of the fire accused guards of leaving prisoners to die trapped inside their cells and shooting at others when they tried to escape, Reuters reported.
Officials are continuing their investigation into the incident, but it is being reported that murals of Catholic saints, Jesus Christ and psalms have been stationed at the site of the fire. A sign has also been placed between two palm trees that reads: "Let there be justice, even if the world perishes."
The biggest religion in Honduras is Roman Catholicism, with more than 97 percent of the country's 8.3 million residents counting themselves among adherents, and three percent identifying as Protestant, according to the CIA World Factbook.