At least 57 inmates were killed during a prison riot in northern Brazil on Monday as rival gang factions fought each other, an official said.

Sixteen of the dead were decapitated in the second major eruption of violence to rock the country’s severely overpopulated and deadly prison system in as many months.

Fighting broke out in the Altamira Regional Recovery Center at around 7am (1000 GMT), an official from the Para state government’s penitentiary department told the media.

Two guards were taken hostage during the hours-long clashes, which were brought under control at around midday. The guards were eventually freed.

Brazilian TV stations showed footage of thick black smoke rising from the prison compound and people sitting on the roof of a building.

Other images showed flames inside a building that almost reached the ceiling and people, apparently prisoners, sitting on the ground outside.

“It is likely that many detainees died from asphyxiation (from smoke),” the government official said, adding that the death toll could rise.

No firearms were found at the scene, but improvised knives appear to have been used in the turf war, according to a statement issued by the penitentiary department.

“It is likely that many detainees died from asphyxiation (from smoke).

Some of the bodies have not yet been recovered due to the heat inside some of the prison structures.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Security said ringleaders of the violence would be transferred to federal jails, which are more secure.

Some 311 prisoners were being held at the jail, which the department said was not overcrowded. It reportedly has a capacity for 200 inmates.

An outbreak of violence in the same prison in September 2018 left at least seven inmates dead, local media reported previously. Guards had apparently foiled an attempted prison escape.

In May this year, at least 55 prisoners were killed in several jails in the neighboring state of Amazonas in violence also blamed on an apparent drug trafficking gang dispute.

Most of the victims were killed by asphyxiation, the state government said at the time.

The federal government dispatched reinforcements to boost security in the jails.

Tags: ;