The official death toll from the fire last week at an immigration jail in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, rose to 40 after one of the hospitalized victims died over the weekend.
The victim died upon arrival at Mexico’s National Center for Burn Research and Care, where six people injured in the fire were transferred over the weekend, Mexico’s public safety department said in a statement announcing the latest fatality.
Of the other 27 people who were injured, 23 are still hospitalized, the department said, adding that more of the victims will be taken to the capital, Mexico City, for specialized care.
One of the survivors, Eduardo Caraballo, originally from Venezuela, told Reuters that he soaked his sweater in water, covered his face and moved to a bathroom in the back of his locked cell as fire and smoke poured in. Others died around him.
“We screamed for them to open the cell door, but no one helped us,” Caraballo, 26, said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
He said someone finally used a heavy object to bash open the door cell. He recalls being pulled by the hand, possibly by a firefighter.
“Others were already dead,” he said in the Reuters interview.
Caraballo was transferred Saturday to an El Paso hospital after the U.S. granted him and his family what is known as humanitarian parole — a temporary permission — to enter the U.S.
Mexico initially declined a U.S. offer to help provide medical treatment to the injured, saying they were too ill to be moved, The Associated Press reported.
Mexico has charged six people in the deadly blaze at the Estancia Provisional de Ciudad Juárez, which sits on the border across from El Paso, Texas. Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it started when detained migrants lit a mattress on fire in protest of pending deportations.
Last week, officials said at least eight people were believed responsible for the fire.
Most of the victims killed or injured are from Guatemala and others are from Honduras, Venezuela, El Savador, Colombia and Ecuador, Mexico officials have said.
Mexico and López Obrador’s administration are facing backlash after video showed guards walking away as flames grew and smoke filled the room. The video showed someone behind the bars kicking at the locked cell door. Questions have been raised about whether the guards had keys.
But human rights and immigrant advocates say Mexico’s immigration detention system also is to blame because of overcrowding in different detention jails and poor, unsafe conditions.
Advocates also are blaming U.S. immigration policies that have forced more migrants from Central and South America to wait in Mexico for opportunities to request asylum and local officials’ enforcement against those migrants.
U.S. policies to deter migrants from coming to the border “have only created more desperation and death,” Vicki Gaubeca, Human Rights Watch associate director, wrote on the group’s web site.
Meanwhile, groups working with migrant families have expressed concern over misinformation on social media and also spread by smugglers. Last week, migrants, mostly from Venezuela, turned themselves in at the border following the fire after hearing false claims they would be allowed into the U.S.
López Obrador, who has promised no impunity for those responsible for the fire and deaths, visited the site of the fire on Friday, The Associated Press reported. During the visit, López said the fire is the second most painful moment of his administration, after a 2019 pipeline fire in Tlahuelilpan killed about 135 people.