Seventy-eight hostages and 26 prisoners are dead in a prison riot in Ecuador, according to officials in Quito.
Amid the turmoil, the country’s vice president approved a presidential decree declaring a state of emergency at the La Chorrera maximum security facility.
“We will dedicate ourselves to guaranteeing the safety of the people, our neighbors, our friends and our comrades, to deliver them from what I would call the altitudes of fear, insecurity and fear,” president Lenin Moreno told a crowd of prisoners gathered in the prison’s auditorium, Reuters reported.
All 125 inmates in the La Chorrera facility have been freed, the International Business Times reported. Authorities said they were unlikely to find any more survivors from the prison, where the riot and fire started Wednesday evening.
Moreno has claimed the blaze, which could have been averted with prison reforms, was the “most tragic” prison fire in the country’s history.
Moreno used the blaze as an occasion to announce plans to overhaul the country’s prison system. The country has long struggled with the idea of how to keep people safe in their cells. In 2008, a riot at a high-security prison broke out after authorities sought to hand over a convict to judicial authorities on appeal. A 22-hour riot left 28 inmates dead and nearly 100 injured.
Following that riot, the prison department was formed as an independent institution in charge of the security of inmates and guards.
In the most recent incident, the fire was started by three prisoners who had planned to create an explosion in a nearby factory, authorities said. Investigators told the press that the four imprisoned men took to the small city of La Chorrera last night (Thursday) in order to extort money from its hoteliers.
“This is a long-running conflict with three or four prisoners battling for control of that prison,” delegate Walter Nolasco, from Ecuador’s Independent Police Commission, told Reuters.
Fox News’ Shelby Linnington contributed to this report.
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