A massive fire in a Honduran prison has killed at least 358 prisoners, many trapped in their cells, yelling for help as the flames engulfed them.
The tragedy took place Tuesday night in the Comayagua farm prison some 90 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa. It was the world's deadliest prison fire in more than a century.
Josue Garcia, a spokesmen for the Comayagua Fire Department, said the scene he witnessed while trying to extinguish the flames was nightmarish.
He said that many inmates were desperate to get out of their cells but couldn't. The prison housed 852 prisoners.
Pastor Her Chinchilla, director of a chaplain's group for Honduran prisons, spoke to CBN News about the prisoners and their families.
"We have confirmed that some Christians were among the victims," he said. "We have some of their names."
Chinchilla said that 180 to 200 of the inmates at the prison were Christians. Many of them gathered regularly with other prisoners in a small chapel in the middle of the prison grounds. The chapel was destroyed by the flames.
"In the prison center we have pastors and co-pastors," Chincilla said. "Many of those who are converted we train as pastors through studies. We had meetings every day. The preaching was supported by churches and ministries."
"There was discipling going on every day, morning, and afternoon. There were prayer chains, led by inmates about to finish their prison sentences," he added.
In each cell, one prisoner was allowed by prison authorities to preach at night. The cell leaders were chosen according to their reputation.
"We have the support of the prison authorities. The pastors have passes to enter different jails, and the wardens were happy to have us preach," Chinchilla noted.
Some of the prison guards were converted to Christ as they listened to the preaching in the cells.
Helping Families Afford Funerals
Chinchilla and other pastors have already started giving spiritual support for the families who lost loved ones in the fire.
"The work we have before us is to comfort family members," Chinchilla explained. "These words can be a blessing but there are families that don't have the means to buy a coffin, or to bury their husband. It's a very difficult task to be with these people."
Area churches are preparing to receive people needing prayer and counseling. Some congregations have committed to holding prayer vigils during the week.
Fruits of Freedom
Approximately 70 former prisoners have over the years become pastors of churches in different parts of Honduras.
"One friend was behind bars 12 years, became a pastor in jail, was released, and now has a large church of over 100 members. Thank God he learned what he was taught," Chinchilla recalled.
The chaplains' ministry is supported by seven churches and prides itself for sound Bible doctrine and for being interdenominational.
State of Emergency
Honduras' President, Porfirio Lobo, said the fire was a regrettable and unacceptable tragedy. He has promised a complete and transparent investigation.
He said prison authorities would be suspended during the investigation.
Hundreds of relatives have flocked to the Santa Teresa Hospital, located near the prison. The hospital has treated more than 40 prisoners with severe burns, and another 40 were sent by ambulance to the Escuela Hospital in the nation's capital.
Hondurans hope the investigations will shed light on the causes of the fire. One early theory is that the fire was caused by poor electrical wiring in the prison.
But prison authorities don't discount the idea that a riot could have been the cause of the inferno.
--Originally aired on February 16, 2012.