After the explosion in a luxury hotel in Havana, rescue workers recovered 31 bodies. The Ministry of Health announced on Sunday evening (local time) that 24 injured were still in the hospital. Helpers searched the rubble of the “Saratoga” hotel for other possible victims. Authorities suspected a gas leak to be the cause of the accident. The rescue operation is set to continue until all victims are found, Mayor Alexis Acosta said.
According to the Presidential Office, a pregnant woman and a child were among the dead. In addition, 64 people were injured, including 14 minors. The condition of three children is critical, according to the health authorities of the socialist Caribbean island.
Two Spanish nationals were also among the victims. “A Spanish tourist died and another Spanish citizen was seriously injured in the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Twitter. “Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and all the victims and injured. All our support also goes to the Cuban people.”
Around 11:00 a.m. local time on Saturday, a powerful explosion had largely destroyed the Hotel Saratoga in Havana’s old town. The dome of a nearby Baptist church collapsed, destroying cars parked nearby.
According to President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who saw the situation on site, it was an accident in which a gas tank exploded. He ruled out an attack. “In no case was it a bomb or an assassination (…) It was simply a very unfortunate accident,” he stressed. An investigation is in progress.
A witness reported that LPG was being delivered to the hotel at the moment of the explosion, reported Granma, the newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Pictures showed a tank truck being pulled out of the rubble.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the well-known five-star hotel, a few steps from the Capitol, has been closed for about two years. It should be reopened next Tuesday.
The lower three floors of the neoclassical building were completely devastated, as can be seen in pictures. The force of the explosion tore the facade away, and the destroyed rooms could be seen from the street.
The Saratoga was housed in the 1930s in a building completed around 1880, which was one of the most luxurious in the city at the time, with its marble staircase and ornate columns and pilasters, according to the Havana Heritage Authority. The concerts by Cuban orchestras on the magnificent terrace were legendary.
On its website, the 96-room hotel boasted, among other things, the “spectacular rooftop swimming pool with panoramic views of the Cuban capital.” Stars like Madonna or Beyoncé as well as numerous foreign state guests have stayed in the house, which was last renovated in 2005, according to local media.
Neighboring buildings and several vehicles were also damaged by the blast, apparently including a church and the important Martí Theatre. According to the government, a nearby elementary school was also damaged and evacuated.
Residents of affected houses were brought to safety. The structural safety of the hotel and surrounding buildings are being examined. Díaz-Canel praised on Twitter that many young Havana residents immediately donated blood for the injured.
Tourism Minister Juan Carlos García Granda said according to Granma that he does not expect that there will be any negative effects on the industry. However, the explosion hit the country just as it is trying to recover from the effects of the corona pandemic. A travel fair has just taken place in the seaside resort of Varadero.
Tourism is one of the most important sources of income for the socialist island state. Before the pandemic, around half a million of the approximately eleven million Cubans worked in the state tourism industry, which accounted for around ten percent of gross domestic product in 2020. Tourism in Cuba had already experienced a decline in 2019, partly due to tightened US sanctions. (dpa, AFP)