At least 38 people have died in a huge fire that tore through an overcrowded prison in Burundi’s political capital, Gitega, Vice President Prosper Bazombanza said.
The blaze that broke out at about 4am on Tuesday also left 69 others injured and destroyed several areas of the facility.
Bazombanza, who visited the scene of the tragedy with several senior ministers, did not say what might have caused the fire.
One inmate said prisoners had perished in the flames, while witnesses said those with the most serious burns were being ferried to hospital in police and army pick-up trucks.
“We started shouting that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames rising very high, but the police refused to open the doors of our quarters, saying ‘these are the orders we have received’,” the detainee told the AFP news agency by phone.
“I don’t know how I escaped, but there are prisoners who were burned completely.”
The facility housed more than 1,500 inmates at the end of November, according to prison authority figures, far higher than its capacity of 400.
Most of the prisoners are men but there is also a separate women’s wing.
The same prison in Gitega was struck by another fire in August, according to the interior ministry, which blamed it on an electrical short-circuit.
No casualties were reported from that incident.