Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala children's home blaze kills 19 teenage girls

An injured victim is brought to hospital in San Jose Pinula Image copyright AFP
Image caption A victim of the fire is brought to a hospital in San Jose Pinula

Nineteen teenage girls have died in a blaze at a children's care home in Guatemala, officials say.

About 25 other people were injured in the fire at the Virgen de Asuncion shelter in San Jose Pinula, about 25km (15 miles) south-east of the capital, Guatemala City.

Police said the blaze may have been started by some of the residents.

On Tuesday, police officers intervened after a riot broke out at the home. About 60 children escaped.

Some alleged they had been mistreated or sexually abused.


Oscar Franco, a spokesman for the volunteer firefighters, told local media: "At least 25 people were injured and transferred to hospitals and we have confirmed 19 bodies."

All those who died were aged between 14 and 17.

The fire ripped through the facility in minutes.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Anxious relatives gathered outside the shelter
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Following the fire, police secured the site, which had previously seen a riot

Nery Ramos, the head of Guatemala's national police, said the fire was started by a group of young people at the shelter.

Firefighters battled to contain the flames as desperate family members arrived at the scene to try to find their loved ones.

After the blaze, images showed burned bodies covered by blankets lying in one of the blackened rooms.

The children who fled on the eve of the fire said it was due to poor conditions and mistreatment following the riot, which left the facility damaged.

The UN children's fund in Guatemala said on Twitter it "condemns the tragedy", adding: "These children and adolescents must be protected".

Local reports say the capacity of the home is 400, but that many more children were living there at the time.

The shelter takes in children up to the age of 18 who have suffered abuse or trafficking, or have been abandoned.

But local media say the shelter was also functioning as a juvenile detention centre, to which judges were sending adolescents involved in criminal cases.

A deadly fire at a children's home in Mexico in 2009 left 49 dead.

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