More than 100 inmates have been killed in a fight inside a prison in the Ecuadorean port city of Guayaquil. It is expected to take days to identify the bodies, leaving relatives of inmates fearing the worst. Journalist Blanca Moncada Pesantes spoke to some of those waiting for news.
Not even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April 2020, when death was in the air in many neighbourhoods of Guayaquil, had so many relatives ever gathered outside the city’s morgue.
When President Guillermo Lasso announced that the death toll had risen, dozens of families rushed to the forensic laboratory where the bodies of the victims were being taken. They want to find out where their loved ones are and, crucially, if they are still alive.
They have yet to get an answer and their anxiety only increased as explosions could again be heard coming from Guayaquil’s biggest prison, a sign that the gang war inside – said to be linked to the drugs trade – had not been brought under control.
Late on Thursday, police said they had regained control of the prison following a major operation involving 900 officers and army soldiers and gave a revised death toll of 118.
Family members of inmates wait outside a morgue for identification of the dead
Image caption,Only a handful of bodies have been identified so far, scores of families are still waiting for news
One of those outside the morgue was 66-year-old Gustavo Vives, whose 24-year-old son was killed in the prison riot.
“He’s not on the list [of fatalities] but I know he is dead because I saw a photo of his body and I identified him from that,” he says.
Like many others he has been getting information from footage and photos shared on social media and among inmates’ relatives.
By midday on Thursday, the area outside the forensic lab was full of people. Funeral workers looking for business milled among anxious relatives.
They had coffins at the ready should they be needed – unlike during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic when a shortage of coffins in Guayaquil saw some people forced to use cardboard boxes to bury their loved ones.