, HERMOSILLO, June 8 – Thousands of people have attended a mass here to remember the young victims of a tragic fire that swept through a government day-care centre, killing at least 41 children, most under the age of two.
Some 3,000 people gathered in an auditorium in Hermosillo, northern Mexico, on Sunday to pray for the children who perished in Friday’s blaze at a converted downtown warehouse, where scores of mostly poor kids were cared for.
A priest who officiated at the service recalled the acts of one desperate father who frantically tried to aid in the rescue effort by backing his truck into the side of the building to break down its cement walls.
The cleric said the man was able to rescue three children, although he failed to find his own and that they died in the blaze.
"Jesus brought him near his children, and now returned has them to the arms of God and the Virgin Mary," the priest declared at the mass.
Sonora state health secretary Raymundo Lopez said on Sunday that in addition to the children who died, 22 still were hospitalized, 12 of them in serious condition. Six adults also have been hospitalized.
The cause of the blaze was unknown but questions were being raised about safety conditions at the ABC centre, and authorities vowed a thorough probe.
"This has been a painful tragedy for all Mexicans," said President Felipe Calderon.
"I have ordered the federal prosecutor to carry out investigations as soon as possible to help us know exactly what happened and how, and to determine the corresponding responsibility."
Meanwhile grieving Mexican parents have begun burying their children.
Dozens of people carrying flowers and toys came to a small chapel Saturday to bid final farewell to a three-year-old girl named Camila who died in the fire from asphyxiation, while her four-year-old sister fought for her life in a hospital in Guadalajara.
Elsewhere, distraught parents sat outside hospitals awaiting word on the fate of their children, with questions being raised about how the fire began and whether deaths could have been prevented.
Many of the 142 children in the day care facility were taking an afternoon nap when the fire broke out.
Most of the children died from smoke inhalation, officials said. Others died when the roof in the crib room collapsed.
The centre lacked emergency exits and the structure was so weak that part of the roof caved in on an area where many newborn babies were sleeping, reports said.
The day care centre was housed in an old warehouse on a dirt road in the centre of Hermosillo. Local media reported it had only two doors, one of which was always locked, and five windows high on its walls.
But state authorities said the facility passed a safety inspection in May.
Local media suggested the fire had started in a neighbouring tire shop, a claim the shop owners quickly denied, according to news reports.
Emergency services arrived some time after locals began bringing victims out, witnesses told AFP.
A 40-year-old man who lives in front of the centre and was the first to arrive told La Reforma daily how he handed burnt and lifeless bodies that he pulled from the building to his neighbors.
"It was a terrifying experience," said the man, identified as Roberto Bustamante, as he choked back tears. "There was a lot of smoke, but there were no children’s cries. They were all unconscious or dead."
Some of the injured had been transferred to the western state of Jalisco to be treated by doctors specialized in children’s burns, said Daniel Karam of the Mexican Social Security Institute.
One was even flown to a burns unit at a hospital in Sacramento in the US state of California.