Nine dead and a dozen missing in the explosion of the luxury hotel Saratoga in Havana

A strong explosion in the central hotel Saratoga in Havana, which was closed to the public, left at least nine dead and some 40 injured, destroying several floors of the building and causing damage around it.

“Until now Nine dead and 40 injured are reported.. Our deepest condolences and sincere accompaniment to the families and friends of the victims. #FuerzaCuba,” said President Miguel Díaz-Canel in a tweet, after visiting the place and several hospitals.

Among the wounded were 11 extremely serious. “A two-year-old boy who is undergoing surgery for a skull fracture,” reported Miguel Hernán Estévez, director of the Hermanos Almejeiras hospital, one of the three hospitals that received victims.

The explosion happened at 11:00 local time. Díaz-Canel arrived at the scene an hour later to supervise the rescue efforts.

“It was not a bomb or an attack, it was an unfortunate accident“, he said in front of the mountain of rubble that was rising in the luxury hotel, located on the emblematic Prado Avenue and very close to the Capitol.

The Presidency reported in a tweet that “preliminary investigations indicate that the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez expressed his “solidarity and consternation” over the tragedy and sent “heartfelt condolences to the families of the fatal victims.”

A “terrible noise”

“There was a tremendous noise and a cloud of dust that reached the park (across the street), many people ran away,” Rogelio Garcia, a pedicab driver who was passing just at the time of the explosion, told AFP.

The first four floors of the Saratoga, a five-star hotel with 96 rooms, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, were blown up in the blast. The ground was strewn with debris and glass and several cars were damaged around it, AFP found.

In the hotel, which was closed and was preparing to reopen to the public on May 10were the workers of the establishment.

“Until now we have no information that there is any foreigner or injured or deceased, but we have to wait because the information is very primary,” Tourism Minister Juan Carlos García Granda said on his side.

The delegate of the state company Gaviota, owner of the hotel, Roberto Calzadilla, said that the explosion occurred when “the gas was being replenished with a pipe (tank truck) and apparently this was what caused this unfortunate accident.”

Shortly after the explosion, a cloud of smoke and dust spread over the area. Of the first four floors of the building, only a few columns remained that supported the structure.

Some people were assisted on the floor by paramedics, between the coming and going of ambulances and fire trucks. Police cordoned off two blocks around with yellow tape.

Popular Havana hotel

“What you felt was a shocking explosion and all that came crashing down,” said another woman who still had dust on her face and did not want to give her name.

A school is located right next to the hotel, but fortunately “all the children were evacuated and none were injured,” the Cuban presidency said.

The roof dome of El Calvario Baptist Church subsequently collapsed. Television images showed the destruction inside the compound.

“Our solidarity with our brother President @DiazCanelB and with the Cuban people for the explosion that occurred at the Hotel,” Bolivian President Luis Alberto Arce said in a tweet, sending “our condolences to the families of the victims and all of our support”.

For his part, the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Marcelo Ebrard, expressed in a tweet “our solidarity with the victims and those affected, as well as with the people of that endearing brother nation.”

The Saratoga, a luxurious neoclassical building built in 1880 for warehouses, was remodeled as a hotel in 1933 and reopened in 2005.

As one of the most popular hotels in Havana, it has hosted various personalities such as Beyoncé and Jay Z, who celebrated an anniversary in 2013, as well as Madonna and her daughter Lourdes and Mick Jagger, the legendary member of the Rolling Stones.

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