At least 19 girls dead in fire at Guatemala children's shelter: police

At least 19 girls were killed in a fire on Wednesday, March 8th in a government-run home for abused teens, Guatemalan police said, with local media reporting that dozens of residents had escaped the overcrowded home following a melee overnight.

The Virgen de Asuncion home is in the municipality of San Jose Pinula, some 15 miles southwest of the capital Guatemala City and houses women of up to 18 years old.

A crowd of relatives, many of them wailing with grief, gathered outside the home.

According to firefighters, 19 girls died and at least 25 had been injured.

"Various residents caused fires in two areas. For that, volunteer fire units were sent in to combat fires, and to help with medical rescue. The fire was successfully put out using more than 3,000 gallons of water. There are 25 residents with first or second degree burns," said fireman Jorge Mario Cruz.

Plagued by Latin America's highest rates of child malnutrition and street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha that often prey on minors, Guatemala has long been a traumatic place to grow up. Conditions in public institutions are often dismal with widespread overcrowding.

Burnt bodies partially covered in blankets were strewn across the floor of a blackened room in the home, pictures posted to Twitter by the firefighters showed.

Guatemalan media said that on Tuesday, about 60 minors escaped from the home, which takes in children who have been victims of abuse and trafficking or abandoned.

Media also said more than children live in the home, despite its capacity to hold only 400.

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The home is run by the Ministry for Social Welfare and the attorney general for human rights decides whether children are placed in the home or not.