At least nine people were killed and 40 injured on Friday after the strong explosion, likely as a result of a gas leak, that partially destroyed the Saratoga hotel in central Havana.
“So far, nine have been killed and 40 injured,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter, expressing his “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims.
Earlier, Miguel Garcia, director of the Calixto Garcia hospital where some of the injured are being treated, had reported that 11 injured were “in very serious condition”. “A two-year-old child is undergoing surgery for a skull fracture,” said Miguel Hernan Estévez, director of Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital.
For his part, the First Secretary of the Communist Party in Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, had indicated in the afternoon that “13 people (were) missing” and warned: “search and rescue work continues in the region.” other people could become trapped under the rubble, authorities say there are no foreigners among the victims.
The emblematic establishment of Old Havana with its green facade, the hotel, under construction, was closed to tourists for two years.
The only employees inside were preparing for the reopening, scheduled for May 10.
“According to initial findings, the explosion was caused by a gas leak,” the Cuban presidency’s Twitter account read.
According to the manager of Havana’s historic district, Alexis Costa Silva, quoted by state media Cubadebate, a jerry can containing liquefied gas was exchanged at the hotel.
The cook smelled gas and discovered a crack in the pipe, which caused the explosion.
“It was neither a bomb nor an attack, it was a deplorable accident,” said President Diaz-Canel, who arrived on the scene shortly after, trying to put an end to the rumors on social networks that sparked the attacks in the bomb that took place in several hotels in the 1990s, sponsored by Cuban exiles.
“A terrible explosion”
The first four floors of the 5-star Saratoga Hotel with its 96 rooms, two restaurants and a rooftop swimming pool were blown up by the blast, which took place around 11:00 am local time (1500 GMT) and the ground was strewn with debris. and pieces of glass, AFP journalists noted.
A few minutes after the explosion, a thick cloud of smoke and dust spread over the avenue du Prado, where this establishment is located, near the famous civic building of the Capitol.
There was “a huge” explosion and “a cloud of dust that reached the park (in front of the hotel, editor’s note), many people rushed out,” testified AFP Rogelio Garcia, the driver of a pedicab that passed from Saratoga south-east. time of the tragedy.
“There was a terrible explosion and everything collapsed,” said one woman, her face covered in dust, who refused to give her name.
Several vehicles were destroyed near this hotel, which is known for hosting several celebrities in recent years, including Mick Jagger, Beyoncé, and Madonna.
Built in 1880 to house shops, the building was converted into a hotel in 1933 and renovated into a luxury establishment in 2005.
Security forces, arriving in large numbers, isolated the perimeter while rescuers searched for possible additional victims in the rubble at the foot of Saratoga.
A dozen ambulances and five fire engines were on site, the last one tried to cool the gas depot by spraying water on it, AFP noted. In the middle of the afternoon, a machine began to remove some of the debris.
President Diaz-Canel, who also went to a hospital where the wounded were treated, told the doctors: “Be the best, we have to save ours”.