LIMA - Fire swept through a drug rehabilitation center early Saturday, killing 14 people who were unable to escape the inferno because windows were barred and doors were locked, firefighters said.
The disaster comes just three months after 29 people were killed in a fire at another drug rehabilitation center in Lima.
The latest fire broke in the early morning hours at the Sacred Heart of Jesus rehabilitation center, a two-story house in the town of Chosica, 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of the capital.
“The doors were locked and the windows on the second floor had bars on them. It wasn’t possible for people to get out,” said Fernando Campos, head of the firefighters on the scene.
He said 13 bodies were found on the second floor of the building and one on the first floor. The cause of the fire was unknown. Neighbors, however, reported hearing the sounds of fighting among the residents before the fire broke out early Saturday. “We almost always heard screams at night but then they calm down,” a woman told the local press.
“But this time, it seemed like they were fighting and the screaming was very loud, until a guard came out of the house and asked for the fire department to be called because there was a fire.”
The sole survivor of the blaze, Luis Zeballo, told reporters he smelled smoke and felt heat in the early morning and ran out of the building.
“I heard them calling for help when I was already downstairs,” he said.
Residents of the rehabilitation center lived in a dormitory on the second floor of the house, while the first floor was used for offices and consulting rooms.
Investigators said the fire may have broken out on the ground floor, blocking the path of those on the second floor.
Meanwhile, relatives of the victims massed outside a fenced off area around the building, begging to be let in to identify their loved ones.
Women wailed every time firefighters brought out a body bag with remains and loaded them onto a vehicle to be taken to the morgue.
When they were finished, prosecutor Ana Maria Cuba invited family members into the house, where she spoke to them about when they would be allowed to identify the remains.
Chosica Mayor Luis Bueno told reporters that inspectors had been to the center several months earlier, and had noted nothing unusual.
But he said it was up to the federal government to better regulate the country’s many private, often unlicensed drug rehabilitation centers.
Drug prevention group CEDRO says there are about 260 such centers around the country, but only 20 percent are licensed and have personnel trained to deal with alcoholics and drug addicts.
State-run facilities have only 700 beds for an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people dependent on drugs, according to CEDRO.