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Fire at Children’s Shelter near Guatemala City Leaves 19 Dead

GUATEMALA CITY — At least 19 people have been found dead at the scene of a fire in a shelter for children near Guatemala City, the spokesman for Guatemala's volunteer fire departments said Wednesday.

Mario Cruz told the Emisoras Unidas radio station that firefighters were still extinguishing parts of the morning blaze.

But he said that so far 19 bodies have been found and about two dozen people were being treated for injuries.

Image: Family members react as they wait for news of their loved ones after a fire broke at the Virgen de Asuncion home in San Jose Pinula
Family members react as they wait for news of their loved ones after a fire broke at the Virgen de Asuncion home in San Jose Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City on March 8. Saul Martinez / Reuters

The national police department said a total of 38 people had been injured. The country's Health Ministry said that 14 were in serious condition with severe burns.

Dr. Carlos Soto, the director of the Roosevelt Hospital where some were being treated, said the most severe cases, all apparently girls, had suffered life-threatening burns.

The shelter has been criticized for overcrowding, alleged abuse and escapes in the past.

The prosecutor for children's rights, Abner Paredes, told Emisoras Unidas that at least 15 people had died but that information was still being collected.

He said initial reports suggested the fire started when some started setting fire to mattresses in the shelter, known as the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home.