June 6, 2009 / 1:55 AM / 10 years ago

Deaths in Mexico day-care fire rise to 35 children

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The death toll from a fire at a day-care center in northern Mexico rose to 35 children with at least 40 more hospitalized, many with life-threatening burns, Mexican authorities said on Saturday.

Policemen stop a mother who is trying to access the area of a fire at a daycare center in Hermosillo, in the Mexican state of Sonora June 5, 2009. REUTERS/Alonso Castillo

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said he has ordered an investigation into Friday’s fire at the ABC day-care center in the northern city of Hermosillo to find who is to blame.

As flames blocked the center’s doorway, employees and neighbors 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 old to about 3 years old, authorities said. It was unclear where or how the fire started, although it may have broken out in a nearby warehouse or a tire workshop, the government said.

“According to what our people saw, there was an explosion followed immediately by flames,” Daniel Karam, head of the Mexican agency responsible for health care and social security, said at a news conference in Hermosillo.

The city of about 700,000 people is located about 170 miles south of the border with the U.S. state of Arizona.

Calderon said he was rushing medical assistance to 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,” Calderon said in a speech during an event in the state of Quintana Roo.

FACILITY PASSED INSPECTION

More than 140 children were in the ABC day-care center when the fire broke out, Karam told reporters. Karam said the center had passed its last government inspection in May.

The previous death toll given by the government was 31 children, but four more died in the hospital overnight.

In addition, at least 40 more children remained hospitalized, authorities said. About 20 were in “extremely grave” condition, some with burns covering more than 70 percent of their bodies, the government said.

Six adults also were hospitalized in less serious condition following the fire, authorities said.

At a government auditorium, parents waited silently for their children’s bodies to be turned over to them.

At least one child was being flown to the Shriners children’s hospital in Sacramento, California, which specializes in burns and has been consulting with Mexican doctors, 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,” Shriners hospital spokeswoman Catherine Curran told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Anahi Rama; Editing by Will Dunham

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