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Families bury their children as Mexico mourns fire disaster

GRIEVING parents began burying their children after a devastating day-care fire killed 38 infants and toddlers in a tragedy that has stunned Mexico and prompted its president to promise a thorough investigation.

The family of 2-year-old Maria Magdalena Millan dropped white roses on to her casket and attached a Dora the Explorer balloon to the cross marking her grave during one of the first funerals held on Saturday.

"I love you and I don't want to leave you here!" her mother screamed at the funeral.

President Felipe Calderon arrived in the northwestern Mexican city late on Saturday to console the injured. He wished the children a speedy recovery and promised families full support for their needs from his health ministry and a thorough investigation into the cause of a tragedy that he said was felt by all Mexicans.

"I want to say to the mothers and fathers of the little ones who died that we share their profound sadness," the president said earlier in the day.

The death toll rose to 38 on Saturday after three more children died in hospitals, according to Sonora state health secretary Raymundo Lopez Vucovich. Most of the victims had died of organ collapse caused by smoke inhalation, he said.

Delfina Ruelas, 60, said her grandchild German Leon died of his burns on Saturday, three days after his fourth birthday and a day after the raging fire from an adjoining tire and car warehouse spread to the roof of the day-care center and sent flames raining down on the children.

Fire officials still don't know how it started. Firefighters carried injured children through the front door - the building's only working exit - and through large holes that a civilian knocked into the walls before rescue crews arrived, according to a fire department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Noe Velasquez, an employee at a nearby auto-parts store who witnessed the fire and helped pull out five toddlers, said the father of one of the children rammed his pickup truck through a wall. Velasquez did not know if the man's child survived.

There were an estimated 142 children in the day-care center at the time of the fire, their ages ranging from 6 months to 5 years.

Thirty-three children remain hospitalized, 23 of them in Hermosillo, including 15 who are in critical condition, Lopez said. One of them is brain dead.


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