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Burials start for 38 child victims of nursery blaze; Mexican president consoles the injured as 33 lie in hospital beds.

GRIEVING parents began burying their children yesterday after a fire at a nursery in Mexico killed 38 babies and toddlers.

The family of two-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 at one of the first funerals held yesterday.

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

President Felipe Calderon arrived in the north-western city of Hermosillo to console the injured.

Thirty-three children remain in hospital.

He wished surviving children a speedy recovery and promised families full support from his health ministry and a thorough investigation into the cause of a tragedy that he said all Mexicans felt.

"I want to say to the mothers and fathers of the little ones who died that we share their profound sadness," Mr Calderon said.

The fire, which happened on Friday, initially spread from an adjoining tyre and car warehouse to the roof of the ABC daycare centre, and sent flames raining down on the young children. Fire officials still do not know how the blaze started.

Delfina Ruelas, 60, said her grandson German Leon died of his burns yesterday, three days after his fourth birthday.

Mrs Ruelas and her husband saw televised reports about the fire and rushed over.

"I thought he wasn't that burned and that we would find him OK, but he was very burned," said Mrs Ruelas, breaking down in tears outside the mortuary in Hermosillo, where she waited with 30 other relatives.

"They operated on him, and he held on, but today he couldn't." Firefighters carried injured children out of the front door - the building's only working exit - and through large holes that a civilian knocked into the walls before rescue crews arrived.

Noe Velasquez, an employee at a nearby car parts store who helped pull out five toddlers, said one of the children's fathers rammed his pick-up truck through a wall.

The deaths in Hermosillo, capital of the state of Sonora with a population of about 560,000, again raised questions about building safety in Mexico. Last year, a deadly stampede at a nightclub killed 12, and a disco fire nine years ago killed 21. Both clubs were in Mexico City.

An estimated 142 children were in the nursery at the time of the fire, ranging from six months to five years in age, as well as six staff who looked after them.

The ratio is in keeping with legal standards, said Daniel Karam, director of Mexico's Social Security Institute, which outsourced services to the privately run centre.

A May 26 inspection found that the daycare building - a converted warehouse with a few windows mounted high up - complied with safety standards, Mr Karam added.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of sympathy for those killed or injured in the fire, the Vatican said.

The pontiff was "deeply pained" by the news and offered his fervent prayers for the victims as well as "heartfelt condolences" to the loved ones of those who perished, the telegram said..

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GRIEF: The family of two-year-old Camila Fuentes Cervera, who died in the fire, at her funeral at a cemetery in Hermosillo, Mexico
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 8, 2009
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