The death toll from a massive explosion at a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital rose to 31 on Sunday night as search parties with dogs scoured the rubble of the iconic 19th-century building in search of those still missing.
The Hotel Saratoga, a 96-room five-star hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited and the outer walls spilled into the busy streets on mid-morning, just a block from the Capitol, construction blew up on Friday.
Several nearby buildings were also damaged, including the historic Marti Theater and the Calvary Baptist Church, the headquarters of the faith community in western Cuba. The church said on its Facebook page that the building suffered “significant structural damage with several collapsed or cracked walls and columns (and) the partially collapsed ceiling,” although no church workers were injured.
In releasing the names of those killed, the Health Ministry said among the dead were four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist whose companion was seriously injured.
The ministry also said 54 people were injured, 24 of whom were hospitalized. 85 injuries were previously reported, but that number turned out to include those killed in the blast.
Nineteen families had reported people missing as of Saturday night, but authorities did not say on Sunday if the number had changed.
Authorities said the cause of the explosion at the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA hotel is still under investigation but believed it was caused by a gas leak. A large crane heaved a charred gas tanker out of the rubble on Saturday.
Authorities believe a gas leak on Friday morning led to an explosion that killed at least 26 people at an unrenovated hotel in Havana, Cuba.
Burials for the victims have begun, city officials said, while some people were still awaiting news of missing friends and relatives.
“We hope that something will come out about my cousin’s mother,” Angela Acosta told The Associated Press near the site of the blast. Her relative, María de la Concepción Alard, lived in an apartment next to the hotel with a black labrador who was rescued along with another dog on Sunday.
Crews have been working to clean up the streets around the hotel and by late Saturday foot traffic had resumed at a significant rate.
“There are mothers who are without their children today,” said Matha Verde, a manicurist who was walking near the Saratoga, on Sunday as Cuba celebrated Mother’s Day. She said she is telling women who lost their sons or daughters in the blast that they “must move on”.
The blast added to the woes of a key tourism industry that had been stifled by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as tightened sanctions by former US President Donald Trump and the Biden administration held 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.
Photos: An explosion destroys the Hotel Saratoga in the Cuban capital, Havana
The Saratoga, which had closed during the pandemic, was one of Havana’s elite properties, often hosting VIPs and celebrities. Its owner is a Cuban military company.
Some attention in Cuba has gradually turned to an official visit by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived Saturday night at the end of a five-country tour that began in Central America.
López Obrador met Sunday with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who awarded him the Medal of Jose Marti “for his great contributions to humanity.” It is the most important award that the country gives to a foreigner.
Díaz-Canel’s office said in a tweet that López Obrador has said he will insist to US President Joe Biden that Cuba is not excluded from the Summit of the Americas it will host in Los Angeles in June.
López Obrador said the objectives of the trip are to sign trade, health, education and cooperation agreements with the island, while confirming his foreign policy stance.
“We are not for hegemonies,” he said. “No one should exclude anyone because we are independent countries, we are sovereign countries, and no one can supersede the rights of peoples and nations.”
Díaz-Canel visited Mexico during last year’s Independence Day celebrations. López Obrador recently spoke out against the US administration’s apparent intention to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the upcoming summit.
There is currently no information on injuries.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/havana-hotel-death-toll-rises-to-31-as-dogs-search-for-survivors/3232310/ Hotel Havana death toll rises to 31 as dogs search for survivors – NBC10 Philadelphia