At least 25 dead in explosion at historic hotel in Cuba’s capital, Havana – NBC10 Philadelphia

Rescue workers in Cuba’s capital on Saturday searched for survivors of an explosion that killed at least 25 people and destroyed a luxury hotel that once housed dignitaries and celebrities, including Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

A natural gas leak was the apparent cause of Friday’s explosion at the 96-room Hotel Saratoga in Havana. The 19th-century building in Old Havana was not having any guests at the time as it was undergoing renovations ahead of a scheduled reopening Tuesday after the closure.

According to Orestes Llánez, coordinator of the Havana Municipality, the death toll rose to 25 on Saturday, according to the official news site Cubadebate. He said 22 have been identified, 18 residents of the capital and four from other parts of Cuba.

He said searchers managed to reach the hotel’s basement in search of possible survivors.

At least one survivor was found in the devastated ruins of the hotel early Saturday, and rescuers with search dogs climbed over huge boulders of concrete to search for more. Relatives of missing persons stayed at the site overnight. Others gathered at hospitals where the injured were being treated.

Photos: An explosion destroys the Hotel Saratoga in the Cuban capital, Havana

“I don’t want to move from here,” Cristina Avellar told The Associated Press near the hotel, whose exterior walls were blown away by the blast, exposing the interiors of many rooms.

Avellar was waiting for news from Odalys Barrera, a 57-year-old cashier who has worked at the hotel for five years. She is the godmother of Barrera’s daughters and regards them as a sister.

Although no tourists were injured, the blast dealt another blow to the country’s vital tourism industry.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic kept tourists away from Cuba, the country was struggling with tightened sanctions from former US President Donald Trump and keeping the Biden administration in place. These limited visits to the islands by US tourists and limited remittances from Cubans in the US to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had started to revive a little earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine dampened a boom in Russian visitors, who made up almost a third of the tourists who came to Cuba last year.

The five-star Saratoga Hotel is badly damaged after an explosion in Old Havana, Cuba

AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

The five-star Hotel Saratoga is badly damaged after an explosion in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday May 6, 2022.

The lower floors of the hotel appeared to have sustained the most damage from Friday’s blast. The lack of walls made it possible to distinguish mattresses, pieces of furniture, hanging glass, torn curtains, and pillows covered in dust.

dr Julio Guerra Izquierdo, head of hospital services at the Health Ministry, said at least 74 people were injured. Among them were 14 children, according to a tweet from President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s office.

Cuba’s national health minister, José Ángel Portal, told The Associated Press the number of casualties could rise if the search continues. Fire Department Lt. Col. Noel Silva said rescue workers were still searching for a large group of people who may have been under the rubble.

The ruined hotel remained cordoned off as workers operated heavy machinery to lift huge sections of wall and masonry and trucks left the site laden with rubble.

Rescue workers work after an explosion at the Hotel Saratoga in Havana on May 6, 2022. A massive explosion destroyed part of a hotel under repair in the Cuban capital.

Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images

Rescue workers work after an explosion at the Hotel Saratoga in Havana on May 6, 2022. A massive explosion destroyed part of a hotel under repair in the Cuban capital.

Rescuers declined to answer questions because authorities had ordered them to avoid confusion.

A school with 300 students next to the hotel was evacuated. Havana Governor Reinaldo García Zapata said five of the students were slightly injured.

The emblematic hotel had stunning views of central Cuba, including the domed Capitol building some 100 meters away. The Capitol suffered broken glass and damaged masonry from the blast.

Renovated in 2005 as part of the Cuban government’s revitalization of Old Havana, the hotel is owned by the Cuban military’s tourism business arm, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA. The company said it was investigating the cause of the blast and did not respond to an email from the AP asking for more details about the hotel and the renovation.

In the past, the Hotel Saratoga was used by VIPs and politicians, including high-ranking US government delegations. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed there in 2013.

García Zapata said buildings adjacent to the hotel were being assessed, including two badly damaged apartment buildings. Díaz-Canel said families in affected buildings have been moved to safer locations.

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he was walking past the hotel when “the explosion knocked me down and my head still hurts… It all happened very quickly.”

Concerned relatives of people who had worked at the hotel turned up at a hospital to look for loved ones. Among them was Beatriz Céspedes Cobas, who was in tears looking for her sister.

“She had to work today. She’s a housekeeper,” she said. “I work two blocks away. I felt the noise and initially didn’t associate the explosion with the hotel at all.

There is currently no information on injuries.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was due to arrive in Havana late Saturday for a visit, and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the visit would still take place.

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/strong-explosion-damages-saratoga-hotel-in-havana-cuba/3230728/ At least 25 dead in explosion at historic hotel in Cuba’s capital, Havana – NBC10 Philadelphia

Sarah Y. Kim

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