(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
GUATEMALA CITY - A fire that ripped through an overcrowded home for abused children in Guatemala killed at least 34 people, mostly girls, and doctors on Thursday described their shock at the severity of the burns suffered by two dozen more hospitalized victims.
"I've been doing this for 29 years. What I saw yesterday was a scene from Dante," said Juan Antonio Villeda, director of the San Juan de Dios hospital, where 17 victims with extremely serious burns were being treated.
The fire broke out on Wednesday as some residents allegedly set mattresses ablaze following an escape attempt from the government-run Virgen de Asuncion home for youths aged up to 18, near San Jose Pinula, 25 km (15 miles) southwest of the capital, Guatemala City.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the fire was started by a group that authorities had isolated after the escape attempt on Tuesday night.
Guatemala has Latin America's worst rates of child malnutrition and street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha prey on minors, making it an often dangerous place to grow up. The Central American nation's public institutions are underfunded, racked by corruption and widespread overcrowding.
Criticism is mounting about conditions in the home, which housed boys as well as girls.