At least 68 people have lost their lives in a riot and a subsequent fire in the cells of a police station in Venezuela’s northern city of Valencia, the country’s attorney general has announced.
The deadly incident occurred on Wednesday after inmates in the reportedly crowded prison attached to a police station in the capital city of Carabobo State started a violent riot during an attempted breakout, and after a fire that later erupted in the facility.
The news of the incident gathered crowds of anguished family members outside the detention center, some weeping and others facing off with police officers in full riot gear, who dispersed the angry people with tear gas.
“The State Prosecutor’s Office guarantees to deepen investigations to immediately clarify what happened in these painful events, which have left dozens of Venezuelan families in mourning,” said Attorney General Tarek William Saab on Twitter late in the day.
Some unconfirmed reports say that gunshots were also heard as the rioting began.
Firefighters have extinguished the blaze, in which an unspecified number of inmates were burned to death.
Reportedly, Venezuela’s prisons are overcrowded, and weapons and drugs abound there. Deadly riots are also said to be common.
Rafael Lacava, the governor of Carabobo State, said “a serious and profound investigation” was launched to determine the cause of the loss of life and those responsible for “these regrettable events.”
The New York Times cited workers at the scene as saying that the prison had a capacity of about 60 detainees while well over that number were kept there at the time of the incident.
Four prosecutors have already been named to probe the incident, in which at least two of the victims were women, added Saab, the attorney general.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, a group that monitors prison conditions, claimed that there was chronic overcrowding nationwide.