At least 51 people were killed in a riot fire in a Colombian prison, the prison agency says

Bogotá-At least 51 prisoners were killed after a fire broke out during a prison riot in Tulua, a city in southwestern Colombia, the National Prison Director said Tuesday.

“This is a tragic and tragic event,” INPEC Prison Director General Titocastellanos told local Caracol Radio early Tuesday. “There was a situation, apparently a riot, a prisoner lit a mattress, and a big fire broke out.”

Castellanos later confirmed 51 deaths. Forty-nine died in prison and two died after being taken to the hospital.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the dead died because they inhaled smoke,” he told Caracol. “There are two (injured) sent to Cali. Currently, their diagnosis is by a doctor and we look forward to reporting.”

Twenty-four people were being treated in the hospital and local firefighters put out the fire, Castellanos added.

There are a total of 1,267 prisoners in the prison, and 180 in the cell block where the fire broke out.

One official read a list of unharmed prisoners still alive in anxious families gathered outside the prison. Some of them shouted joy when they heard the name of their loved one.

In Colombia, like many Latin American countries, prisons are very crowded.

According to official figures, Colombian prisons can hold 81,000 inmates, but currently hold about 97,000.

“We have instructed us to proceed with an investigation to clarify this dreadful situation,” President Ivan Duque, who is visiting Portugal, said on Twitter.

Prison violence “has forced a complete rethinking of prison policies towards prison humanization and prisoner dignity,” Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August, said on Twitter.

Colombia released some prisoners during a coronavirus pandemic after about 20 prisoners were killed during a protest against the 2020 congestion and lack of service in prisons.

Hundreds of people died in a nearby Ecuadorian prison last year. The government said there was violence related to the competition of drug gangs and could not be suppressed.

Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Simes Cobb