Havana hotel explosion leaves at least 8 dead

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A powerful explosion apparently caused by a natural gas leak Friday killed eight people and injured at least 40 when it blew away outer walls from a five-star hotel in the heart of Cuba’s capital.

No tourists were staying at the 96-room Hotel Saratoga because it was undergoing renovations, Havana Gov. Reinaldo Garcia Zapata told the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

“It has not been a bomb or an attack. It is a tragic accident,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who visited the site, said in a tweet. The blast happened as Cuba is struggling to revive its key tourism sector that was devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and is being negatively impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Cuba’s national health minister, Jose Angel Portal, told The Associated Press that hospitals had received about 40 injured people, but estimated that the number could rise as the search continues for people who may be trapped between the debris of the 19th century structure in the Old Havana neighborhood of the city.

The Granma newspaper reported that local officials said 13 people were missing. An elementary school next to the hotel was evacuated and local news media said no children were hurt.

The newspaper said local officials reported 13 people missing and about 30 known injured.

‘I thought it was an earthquake’

Photos showed much of the hotel’s outer wall blown away, exposing interior rooms, with clouds of dust billowing into the sky. A school next door had been evacuated.

Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and ambulance crews worked inside.

Rescuers work to clear rubble after the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana. Officials said the hotel was undergoing renovations. (Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he had been walking past the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground, and my head still hurts…. Everything was very fast.”

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,” she said. “I’ve still got my heart in my hand.”

Mayiee Perez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I am fine, I am fine. They got us out,” but had been unable to reach him since.

The five-star, 96-room hotel in Old Havana has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.



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