March 29 (UPI) — At least 68 people died after a fire broke out during a riot at a police station in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, authorities said Thursday.
The fire started after prisoners set fire to a mattress in an attempt to escape late Wednesday.
Venezuela Attorney General Tarek William Saab said on Twitter 66 of the victims were men, and two women who visited the police station died.
“We will deepen the investigations to immediately clarify these painful events that have mourned dozens of Venezuelan families,” Saab said. “As well as establish the responsibilities there should be.”
Angry relatives of the detainees faced off against police outside the facility, with officers using tear gas to disperse those who surrounded the station.
“I am a desperate mother,” Dora Blanco, the parent of a detainee, said. “My son has been here a week. They have not given any information.”
Although the circumstances surrounding the fire haven’t been officially determined, it is known that a police officer was shot in the leg by a detainee before the flames started.
Rescuers tried to break down walls of the cells to free the prisoners. Some were burned to death and others died of smoke asphyxiation.
Deadly fires have often broke out in Venezuelan jails, including a 2015 blaze at Carabobo Judicial Prison that killed 17.
Human Rights Watch reported this year that Venezuelan prisons are overcrowded and often in poor condition.
“Corruption, weak security, deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowding, insufficient staffing, and poorly trained guards allow armed gangs to exercise effective control over inmate populations within prisons,” Human Rights Watch said in their Venezuelan World Report.