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Forensic work begins after Honduran prison fire

The Americas Post - Some of the victims from the Comayagua Prison fire may never be identified

Honduran forensic specialists on Thursday began the complicated task of identifying the bodies of over 350 inmates who were burned or suffocated this week in a massive prison fire north of the capital.

Hundreds of relatives, many with faces swollen from crying, waited at the small morgue in Tegucigalpa where the forensic team, supported by Red Cross staff, worked to identify unrecognizable bodies.

The corpses of 354 prisoners and a woman who had spent Tuesday night in conjugal visit were transferred to Tegucigalpa from Comayagua prison on refrigerated trucks .

The forensic service officials took samples from groups of 10 to 15 bodies and a strong smell of putrefaction pervaded the 200 square meter room.

The cause of the fire remains unconfirmed, although some authorities report an inmate set fire to a mattress in the overcrowded prison, which held more than 800 inmates.

Upon arrival firefighters said they were not allowed to immediately enter the prison.

“We waited about 30 minutes outside while we heard shots. Then, the guards allowed us to enter and begin to douse the flames,” said Comayagua Fire Chief Leonel Silva.

Daniel Orellana, Director of Prisons now suspended by order of President Porfirio Lobo, said he was not allowed immediate access to the fire because the guards initially thought it was a mass escape attempt.

The fire exposed once again the plight of prisons in Honduras, with the world’s highest murder rate and some 13,000 inmates crammed into a prison system with capacity for 6,000.

Authorities said DNA testing to identify the bodies may take several months. El Salvador sent two forensic experts to assist, while Chile sent 14 specialists, including anthropologists, thanatologists, biochemical and forensic experts. Mexico promised five medical examiners from the attorney general’s staff as well as medical supplies.

Initial reports now indicate that approximately half the victims were awaiting trial, and had not yet been convicted of any crime.