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At least 31 dead as fire ravages youth shelter in Guatemala

At least 31 dead as fire ravages youth shelter in Guatemala

Morales earlier declared three days of national mourning.

Then on Wednesday, about 9 a.m., "Some of the adolescents lit their mattresses on fire", Rodas said.

Police said young people there started the fire on Wednesday, setting sleeping mats ablaze, following an overnight riot in which dozens escaped and were later recaptured.

Zulma Urias (left) and Maria del Carmen Urias Ruiz (right) cry outside the morgue where the bodies of their dead sister and daughter was kept after a fire at the Virgen de Asuncion home on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Brawls broke out inside often, and her brother was sometimes put in a dark isolation cell nicknamed the "chicken coop", she said, adding that she had tried in vain to gain custody of her siblings after their mother's death four months ago.

Police, witnesses and relatives told wire services that the fire started when at least one girl set fire to a mattress, possibly in protest after being kept in the small room for hours. "It smelled like flesh", the girl said. She said she fled to her dormitory's roof with others fearing the boys would attack them.

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The state-run Virgin of the Assumption Safe House has always been the subject of complaints about abuse, inadequate food and crowded and unsanitary conditions behind its 30-foot wall.

It takes in youths up to the age of 18 who are homeless or victims of abuse, but has also been functioning as a juvenile detention centre.

Although the center only had capacity for 500 children, it's been said to house as many as 800 at the time of the fire. His office said the cause of the fire was being investigated. "Because this is an area that he must be aware of with regard to protecting children, and he didn't do that", said Norma Cruz, a children's advocate in Guatemala. The inhabitants constantly complained about the quality of the food, episodes of violence, and sexual assault in the youth home.

He called on authorities "to evaluate whether it is appropriate to have these different groups concentrated in one place".

This is not the first tragedy of the shelter; in 2013 a 14-year-old girl was killed. Officials said the sequence of events was still under investigation.


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