A prison riot in northern Mexico claimed the lives of 44 people on Sunday, the BBC reported.

The incident took place at 02:00 local time in a high-security block of a prison in the city of Apodaca, north of Monterrey. Some of the inmates were strangled to death, the report said. Authorites later got the situation under control.

The violent outbreak that led to the victims' deaths was apparently set off by members of the rival Gulf cartel and Zeta drug gang, a move that may have been staged to cover a breakout from the prison.

We can't rule out the possibility that some prisoners escaped, which also could be a motive if the fight started as a distraction, said Jorge Domene, security spokesman for the Nuevo Leon state government, said in a statement to Reuters. When we count the prisoners, and the number of confirmed dead, there are some missing, he said.

According to a report on the Associated Press, the prison director, the director of security and a supervisor were detained for questioning.

Investigations are being held to look into any possible involvement of the prison guards who were on duty at the time. So far, the number of injured has not been confirmed yet, the BBC said.

A desperate scene unfolded outside the prison walls. Families gathered and protested to security officials, hoping to get a word from the victims.

We have more than 3,000 inmates in this penitentiary and we have to account for all of them first, Domene said to the news service.

The incident comes nearly a week after the deadly prison blaze in Honduras where more than 350 inmates were killed. Mexico's prisons are long known to be overcrowded and a majority of the inmates are usually gang members.