Bogota, Jun 28 (EFE).- The death toll from a fire early Tuesday at the prison in the southwestern Colombian city of Tulua has risen to 51 after two injured people died at medical centers, officials said.
Gen. Tito Castellanos, director of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (Inpec), the Colombian government agency that manages the nation’s correctional system, told Caracol Radio that most of the deaths were caused by smoke inhalation.
The Technical Investigative Corps, a unit of the federal Attorney General’s Office, is in the process of identifying the bodies, he added.
An initial bulletin said 49 inmates had died and 30 others who were injured had been taken to different Valle del Cauca regional hospitals.
The general did not provide any information on the prison guards who, according to initial reports, were affected by the fire.
The tragedy apparently began with a fight and degenerated into a full-scale riot at the Tulua prison, which houses 1,267 inmates and was operating at 17 percent over capacity.
A massive blaze ripped through that medium-security prison shortly after 1 am when some inmates set mattresses on fire.
The initial reports indicated that many of the victims died of smoke inhalation even though firefighters in Tulua, located north of the city of Cali, arrived on the scene quickly.
Colombian President Ivan Duque, currently on a visit to Portugal, lamented the tragedy and expressed solidarity with the victims’ families.
The outgoing head of state said on Twitter that he is in contact with Inpec’s director and has given “instructions to launch investigations to clear up this terrible situation.”
Leftist President-elect Gustavo Petro said for his part on social media that “what happened in Tulua, just like the massacre in La Modelo (in March 2020 in Bogota), forces us to completely reconsider our corrections policy with a view to humanizing prisons and treating inmates with dignity.”
Petro expressed his condolences to the families of the dead inmates, adding that the “Colombian government has looked at prisons as a space for vengeance as opposed to rehabilitation.”
On the night of March 21, 2020, 24 inmates died and more than 90 others were injured in a riot at Bogota’s La Modelo prison that erupted over fears about the spread of the coronavirus behind bars. EFE