The death toll after an explosion ripped through a luxury hotel in central Havana climbed to 26 people including a Spanish tourist, state television reported yesterday, one day after the powerful blast due to a suspected gas leak.
Rescuers combing through what remained of the prestigious Saratoga Hotel said they had found no survivors in the building’s upper floors and were now concentrating their efforts in the two-level basement.
Officials said yesterday that the dead included four children and adolescents.
Of 45 people still hospitalised, they said, nine are in critical condition and six are listed as serious.
Most of those injured were workers or hotel employees.
The search is now turning toward the building’s basement levels – a woman’s cry for help was heard emanating from there on Friday afternoon.
“My daughter works in the Saratoga – she’s been there (under the rubble) since ... yesterday morning, and in all this time I still don’t know anything,” an anguished Yaumara Cobas told journalists, adding that she had checked with a hospital and the morgue.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Twitter that one Spanish tourist had died in the blast and another was seriously injured.
“All our love to their families and those of all the victims and injured. Our support also to the Cuban people,” he added.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel deplored the destruction and loss of life in a Twitter message, while commending those Cubans who had rushed to donate blood for survivors.
“Solidarity has prevailed. #FuerzaCuba,” he added.
Officials from the US, Canada, the EU, China, Russia and Venezuela sent messages of condolence.
The first four floors of the establishment, which were closed to guests while being renovated, were gutted in the late-morning blast that sent a cloud of dust and smoke billowing into the air.
The explosion also tore off large parts of the facade, blew out windows and destroyed cars parked outside the five-star hotel, which has in the past hosted celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Rihanna.
The dome of a nearby Baptist church also collapsed.
Inside the hotel at the time were employees preparing for its post-refurbishment reopening, which had been scheduled for next Tuesday.
Roberto Calzadilla of state company Gaviota, which owns the hotel, said the explosion happened while a gas tank was being refilled.
Ambulances and fire trucks rushed to the scene on Friday and police cordoned off the area, dispersing people who swarmed to the hotel near Havana’s emblematic National Capitol Building, which housed Congress prior to the Cuban revolution.
The neoclassical Saratoga Hotel has 96 rooms, two bars, two restaurants, a spa, a rooftop pool and a gym.
Built in 1880 to house shops, it was converted into a hotel in 1933 and was renovated as a luxury establishment in 2005.
“Well, it’s just more bad news. There was Trump, Biden, the pandemic, shortages, and I could go on and on,” Michael Serano, a nurse who doubles as a handyman, said, shrugging his shoulders and looking to the sky.
The Cuban tourism industry was largely shuttered for the last two years and is in the process of reopening now that locally developed vaccines appear to have tamed the new coronavirus, though arrivals remain at around 30% of pre-pandemic levels.
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