Death toll in Cuba hotel blast reaches 22, including child
The blast that ripped away large sections of the outer wall at the Hotel Saratoga in Cuba’s capital apparently was caused by a gas leak.
A powerful explosion Friday, apparently caused by a gas leak, killed at least 22 people, including a pregnant woman and a child, and injured dozens when it blew away outer walls from a luxury hotel in the heart of Cuba’s capital.
No tourists were staying at the 96-room Hotel Saratoga in Havana because it was undergoing renovations, Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata told the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
“It’s not a bomb or an attack. It is a tragic accident,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who visited the site, said on Twitter.
Díaz-Canel told reporters that 50 adults and 14 children were hospitalized after the blast. Dr. Julio Guerra Izquierdo, chief of hospital services at the Ministry of Health, said at least 74 people had been injured.
Díaz-Canel said families in nearby buildings affected by the explosion had been transferred to safer locations.
An elementary school next to the hotel was evacuated. It was not clear if the injured children were students.
Cuban state TV reported that the blast was caused by a truck that had been supplying natural gas to the hotel but did not provide details on how the gas ignited.
The blast sent smoke into the air around the hotel as people on the street stared in awe and cars sped away, video showed. It happened as Cuba is struggling to revive its crucial tourism sector, which was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuba’s national health minister, José Ángel Portal Miranda, told the Associated Press the number of injured could rise as the search continues for people who may be trapped in the rubble of the 19th century structure in the Old Havana neighborhood.
“We are still looking for a large group of people who may be under the rubble,” Lt. Col. Noel Silva of the fire department said.
Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and rescue workers toiled inside the wreckage of the hotel, about 110 yards from Cuba’s Capitol building.
The hotel was first renovated in 2005 as part of the Cuban government’s revival of Old Havana and is owned by the military’s tourism business arm, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA. The company said it was investigating the cause of the blast and did not immediately respond to an email seeking details about the hotel and the renovation it was undergoing.
The Hotel Saratoga has been visited by political figures, including high-ranking U.S. government delegations, and celebrities. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed there in 2013.
Photographer Michel Figueroa said he was walking past the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground, and my head still hurts. ... Everything was very fast.”
Worried relatives of people who had been working at the hotel showed up at a hospital in the afternoon to look for them. Among them was Beatriz Céspedes Cobas, who was tearfully searching for her sister.
“She had to work today. She is a housekeeper,” she said. “I work two blocks away. I felt the noise.”
Yazira de la Caridad said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel: “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake.”
Besides the pandemic’s impact on Cuba’s tourism sector, the country has been struggling with sanctions imposed by former President Trump that have been kept in place under the Biden administration. The sanctions limit visits by U.S. tourists and restrict remittances from Cubans residing in the U.S. to their families on the island.
Tourism had started to revive early this year, but the war in Ukraine crimped a boom of Russian visitors, who accounted for almost a third of those arriving in Cuba last year.
The explosion occurred as Cuba’s government hosted the final day of a tourism convention in the beach town of Varadero, aimed at drawing investors.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is scheduled to arrive in Havana late Saturday. Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that the visit would still take place.
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