Dozens of people dead in Colombia prison riot

Forty-nine people have been killed and 30 injured during attempted escape from prison in Tulua, officials say.

Colombia prison fire
Prison officials and security forces gather outside of the facility in Tulua, Colombia where a 49 people died in an incident involving a fire. [Juan Jose Horta/The Associated Press]

At least 49 people have died and dozens were injured in a fire during an apparent riot in a prison in the southwestern Colombian city of Tulua, according to officials.

General Tito Castellanos, the head of the national prisons agency, said on Tuesday authorities were investigating whether prisoners had lit their mattresses on fire as part of an “escape attempt” or whether the riot was provoked “to cover some other situation”.

It was not immediately clear if all those who died were prisoners or if anyone escaped during the incident.

“It is a tragic and disastrous event,” he said, adding that 30 people were “injured and affected by the blaze and the smoke”.

A spokesperson for the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute had previously described the deaths as occurring during an attempted prison escape.

Ivan Duque, the outgoing president of Colombia who is on a visit to Portugal, said the incident would be investigated.

“We regret the events in the prison in Tulua, Valle del Cauca,” Duque said.

Map of Tulua, Colombia

“I am in touch with [General Tito Castellanos] and I have given instructions to carry forward investigations that allow us to clarify this terrible situation”.

Castellanos said the Tulua prison has a total of 1,267 inmates and the cell block where the fire occurred housed 180.

Colombia’s prisons are highly overcrowded. Despite having a capacity for 81,000 inmates nationwide, about 97,000 are currently incarcerated, according to official figures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies