More than 100 inmates were killed in what authorities say was the worst prison riot in Ecuador’s history.
Officials say at least five of the bodies found at the Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil had been beheaded as the country’s president declared a state of emergency in the prison system.
The violence was believed to be between gang members – and it is not yet clear if authorities have regained control of the prison.
Images circulating on social media showed dozens of bodies in the prison’s Pavilions 9 and 10 and scenes that looked like battlefields.
The fighting was with firearms, knives and bombs. Earlier, regional police commander Fausto Buenaño had said that bodies were being found in the prison’s pipelines.
Outside the prison morgue, the relatives of inmates wept, with some describing to reporters the cruelty with which their loved ones were killed, decapitated and dismembered.
In total, 116 have died and around 80 injured.
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, visibly moved by the carnage, said at a news conference that what had happened in the prison was “bad and sad.”
Ledy Zúñiga, the former president of Ecuador’s National Rehabilitation Council, said: “In the history of the country, there has not been an incident similar or close to this one.”
Zúñiga, who was also the country’s minister of justice in 2016, said she regretted that steps had not been taken to prevent another massacre following deadly prison riots last February.
Earlier, officials said the violence erupted from a dispute between the “Los Lobos” and “Los Choneros” prison gangs.
A state of emergency gives the government powers to deploy police and soldiers inside prisons, but a former director said inmates can muster a power “equal to or greater than the state itself.”
In July, the president decreed another state of emergency in Ecuador’s prison system following several violent episodes that resulted in more than 100 inmates being killed.
Those deaths occurred in various prisons and not in a single facility like Tuesday’s massacre.
Previously, the bloodiest day occurred in February, when 79 prisoners died in simultaneous riots in three prisons in the country.
In July, 22 more prisoners lost their lives in the Litoral prison, while in September a penitentiary centre was attacked by drones leaving no fatalities.