Scores of prisoners and several civilians are reported to have been killed in a fire that swept through a police station in Venezuela, reportedly caused by a prison riot of some form.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the incident took place at state police headquarters in the town of Valencia, located about 100 miles from Caracas.
Prisons in Venezuela -much like the country itself- are known for their substandard conditions, poor treatment of inmates and squalid conditions, prompting complaints from both Venezuelan subjects and human rights groups.
While various news sources place the body count anywhere from 68-78, local authorities are still trying to determine exactly how many individuals were killed in the detention facility, which was designed for only sixty people.
Nonprofit watchdog group A Window to Freedom claims that the riot began when an armed detainee shot an officer in the leg. Shortly after that a fire broke out, with flames growing quickly as the blaze spread to mattresses in the cells. The veracity of these claims cannot be confirmed however, as Venezuelan officials cannot confirm, deny or possibly even known what actually transpired.
According to ABC News, dozens of men and women have gathered around the site, demanding information concerning their loved ones.
“I don’t know if my son is dead or alive!” cried Aida Parra, who said she last saw her son a day before, when she went to deliver him food. “They haven’t told me anything.”
Reports also indicate anywhere from 2 to 10 women sleeping in the jail, though it is uncertain why they were there in the first place.
Prison riots and armed conflicts between guards and inmates is not uncommon in the impoverished socialist nation, where corrupt guards and inmates frequently work together to control cell blocks like micro-fiefdoms.
“It’s grave and alarming,” said Nieto Palma, director of A Window to Freedom. “What happened today in Carabobo is a sign of that.”
An investigation is underway.