Mexican day care fire death toll rises to 38

The death toll from a fire at a day care centre in northern Mexico reaches 38 children with 23 more hospitalised, many with life-threatening burns.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon talks with a child victim of a daycare centre blaze in Hermosillo, Sonora state, yesterday.
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HERMOSILLO // The death toll from a fire at a day care centre in northern Mexico rose to 38 children with 23 more hospitalised, many with life-threatening burns, Mexican authorities said on Saturday. Mexican president Felipe Calderón ordered an investigation into Friday's fire at the ABC day care centre in the northern city of Hermosillo to find who is to blame and later visited hospitals where survivors were being treated.

Three additional children have died and more seriously burnt victims remained in the hospital, Health Minister Raymundo Lopez said late Saturday. "Unfortunately, fifteen of them are in danger of losing their lives over the next few hours," Mr Lopez said. As flames blocked the center's doorway, employees and neighbours used cars to punch holes through a wall and stumbled over unconscious infants and toddlers as they tried to rescue them, witnesses said.

Smoke inhalation killed many children before rescuers could reach them, with the victims ranging in age from a few months to about 3 years, authorities said. It was unclear where or how the fire started, although it may have broken out in a nearby warehouse or a tyre workshop. "According to what our people saw, there was an explosion followed immediately by flames," said Daniel Karam, head of the Mexican agency responsible for health care and social security.

Crying family and friends buried three children in small grey coffins and another 10 funerals were set to be held simultaneously today. The city of about 700,000 people is located 270km south of the border with the US state of Arizona. Mr Calderón said he was rushing medical assistance to the overwhelmed medical staff in Hermosillo, including air ambulances and specialists in reconstructive surgery.

"I have ordered the attorney general, along with local authorities ... to investigate as soon as possible to find out exactly what happened and identify whoever may be responsible," Mr Calderón said earlier today. More than 140 children were in the ABC day care centre when the fire broke out, Mr Karam said. He added that the centre had passed its last government inspection in May. Six adults also were hospitalised in less serious condition after the fire, authorities said.

A three-year-old girl was flown to the Shriners children's hospital in Sacramento, California, which specialises in burns, and another was due to be sent, the hospital said. "Our burn team here has been working all night with the medical professionals in Mexico to triage these patients, on the phone," said Shriners spokeswoman Catherine Curran. Some of the children were too unstable to transport to other hospitals, Mr Lopez said.

* Reuters