Indonesian quake, tsunami sparked mass prison break in Sulawesi
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Indonesian quake, tsunami sparked mass prison break in Sulawesi

INDONESIA’S justice ministry on Monday said some 1,200 convicts have escaped three different detention facilities in Sulawesi where a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on Friday.

Ministry official Sri Puguh Utami said one prison — built to hold just 120 people in tsunami-struck Palu city — saw most of its 581 inmates overwhelmed guards to flee through walls that collapsed by the massive, the AFP reported.

“Things were initially fine…but not long after the quake, water erupted from under the prison yard causing prisoners to panic and then run onto the road,” Sri Puguh said, adding that the water was not from the tsunami.

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“I’m sure they escaped because they feared they would be affected by the earthquake. This is for sure a matter of life and death for the prisoners,” she added.

Another overcrowded facility in Palu saw inmates breaking down is the main door, while a breakout took place in Donggala, another area struck by the disaster.

Sri Puguh said all 343 inmates from the prison in Donggala were now on the run after they set fire to the facility.

2018-10-01T172420Z_1795026746_RC1DE2874A60_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-QUAKE

A ship is seen stranded on the shore after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 1, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Source: Reuters

She said authorities believed angry detainees who demanded to see their families had started the fire.

“They panicked after learning that Donggala was badly hit by the earthquake,” she said.

“Prison officials did negotiate with prisoners about allowing them to go to check on their families. But some prisoners were apparently not patient enough and committed the arson.”

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Four foreigners escape from Bali prison using tunnel 

Some of the convicts, she said, were jailed for corruption and narcotics offences.

However, Sri Puguh said five people convicted of terror-related crimes had been moved from the prison in Donggala several days before the disaster struck.

She said the just over 100 prisoners remained at the two facilities in Palu, but guards were struggling to keep them fed.

“The prison no longer had enough food,” Sri Puguh said.

“Officials then tried to buy supplies from stores around the prison that were still open.”