SANTIAGO?A fire killed at least 83 inmates in Santiago early Wednesday in what officials called the worst ever disaster at a Chilean jail.
"It's an enormous tragedy ? probably the worst in the history of our prison system," said Health Minister Jaime Manalich, after firefighters extinguished the blaze that swept through a jail in the capital city.
"This is such a huge and painful tragedy," added President Sebastian Pinera, who said another 14 people were seriously injured in a wing of the overcrowded San Miguel facility.
The prison was built to house 900 inmates, but authorities had packed in 1,900 ? more than twice as many.
Manalich told local radio that some of the injured were in serious condition and had been transported to area hospitals for treatment. Three police officers and a firefighter were also among the injured.
The fire started around 5:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) on the fourth story of the penitentiary after some fighting among inmates, authorities said.
Television images showed a large number of police surrounding the area in the south central section of Santiago, and desperate relatives waiting outside for news.
Distraught family members at one point started scuffling amongst themselves as they waited for news and received none. They sat at police, hurled stones and shook the fence around the jail out of frustration.
"There are more than 600 family members who do not know where our children are," one desperate father outside the jail told AFP, asking that he not be named.
"Please, Lord, we want to know what has happened to our children," another woman said, consumed by her sobbing.
Officials said the deaths were most likely caused by suffocation during the blaze.
Prison overcrowding is at crisis proportions across Latin America, both in relatively prosperous countries such as Chile to poorer Central American nations.
Under most legal systems in the region, suspects detained on a charge are considered guilty until proven innocent, and are detained until they are tried. Then they await trial in overloaded court systems ? often for years before their legal fate has been decided.