42 confirmed dead from Cuba hotel blast; most were employees

A rescue worker walks away from the destroyed five-star Hotel Saratoga.
A rescue worker walks away from the destroyed Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana on Tuesday after searching through the rubble days after a deadly explosion.
(Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press)

The elegant Hotel Saratoga in Havana was supposed to reopen Tuesday after a two-year pandemic break. Instead, it was a day of mourning for the 42 people known to have died in an explosion that ripped apart the building Friday, while the search continued for more victims.

The Ministry of Health confirmed that the death toll had risen to 42, including at least one Spanish tourist. Seventeen people remained hospitalized.

Emergency workers continued to hunt through the ruins as experts began to consider the fate of the 19th century building, a former warehouse that had been converted into a hotel early in the last century.


Roberto Enriquez, a spokesman for the military-owned Gaviota tourism company, which operates the Saratoga, said initial estimates are that 80% of the hotel was damaged by Friday’s explosion, which hurled concrete chunks into busy streets just a block from the country’s Capitol and harmed neighboring structures.

He said that when rescue efforts are finished, authorities will determine what to do with the structure.

There were 51 people working to get the hotel ready for its reopening, Enriquez said, and 23 of them are among the dead: executives, maids, cooks, reception workers, security personnel and technicians. Three employees missing, believed to be buried under the debris.

Authorities have said they suspect the cause of the explosion was a gas leak from a tanker truck that was servicing the building.

The head of the Communist Party for Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, said 38 homes had been affected by the explosion, and 95 people had to be relocated, according to the official Cubadebate website. He said one building next to the hotel would have to be demolished.