Fire kills 41 in overcrowded Indonesia prison block
A fire killed 41 inmates in an overcrowded prison block in Indonesia's Banten province on Wednesday, a government minister said, injuring scores more in a blaze that police said may have been caused by an electrical fault.
The fire, the country's most deadly since 47 perished in a firework factory disaster in 2017, broke out at 1:45am in a Tangerang Prison block, said Indonesian law and human rights minister Yasonna Laoly, after visiting the scene.
"We're working together with relevant authorities to look into the causes of the fire and of course formulating prevention strategies so that severe catastrophes like this won't happen again," the minister said in a statement.
The minister said two of the dead were foreign nationals, one each from South Africa and Portugal, and confirmed the prison was operating at overcapacity when the fire broke out.
Cells were locked at the time, the minister said, but with the fire raging uncontrollably, "some rooms couldn't be opened."
Earlier on Wednesday, Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the ministry's prison department, said 122 were being detained on drug-related offenses in a block built to hold 38.
All 41 fatalities were inmates, most of them drug convicts. The 15 corrections officers guarding the cell block were unhurt.
Prisons in Indonesia are notoriously overcrowded, with experts saying the phenomenon is partly due to the emphasis on incarceration rather than rehabilitation of those convicted of drug-related offenses under the country's strict narcotics laws.
Local TV showed footage of flames engulfing the detention facility, and later, the building's charred remains as victims were pulled from the scene in orange body bags.
Doctor Hilwani from Tangerang General Hospital said that some of the bodies had been so badly burned they were unidentifiable.
Another hospital official said some of the victims were in the ICU.
Nursin, a father of one of the victims, said at the prison that the family could not afford to pay his 22-year-old child's legal expenses before going to trial for a drug-related offense. "We are poor ... we couldn't free our child," he said, tearfully.
Jakarta police spokesperson told broadcaster Metro TV that 73 people had light injuries and the initial suspicion behind the cause is "an electrical short circuit."
The electrical wiring had not been upgraded since the 1970s when the prison was built, minister Yasonna said on Wednesday.
The prison in Tangerang, an industrial and manufacturing hub on the outskirts of Jakarta, housed more than 2,000 inmates in total, far exceeding its 600 capacity, according to government data as of September.