The death toll in a powerful explosion at a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital rose to 31 on Sunday evening as search teams hunted dogs in the rubble of the iconic 19th-century building, still searching for missing people. are.
Hotel Saratoga, a five-star 96-room hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited the exterior walls of busy, mid-morning streets. Blown up just a block from the nation’s capitol. Construction on Friday.
Several surrounding structures were also damaged, including the historic Marti Theater and Calvary Baptist Church, the denomination’s headquarters in western Cuba. The church said on its Facebook page that the building suffered “significant structural damage, with several collapsed or broken walls and pillars (and) the roof partially collapsed,” although no church workers were hurt.
Releasing the names of those killed, the health ministry said the dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist whose companion was seriously injured.
The ministry also said that 54 people were injured, including 24 hospitalised. It had previously reported 85 injuries, but the number turned out to include those killed in the explosion.
Nineteen families had reported people missing as of Saturday evening, but officials did not say on Sunday whether that number had changed.
Officials said the cause of the explosion at the hotel owned by Grupo di Turismo Gaviota is still being investigated, but it is believed to have been caused by a gas leak. A large crane pulled a burnt gas tanker out of the rubble on Saturday.
Municipal officials said the last rites of the victims had begun, while some people were still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.
“We’re hoping to find out something about my cousin’s mother,” Angela Acosta told the Associated Press near the blast site. Her relative, Maria de la Concepcion Allard, lived in an apartment next to the hotel with a black Labrador who was rescued on Sunday along with another dog.
Staff worked to clear the streets around the hotel and by late Saturday, substantial pedestrian traffic had resumed.
“There are mothers who are without their children today,” Matha Verde, a manicurist who was walking near Saratoga, said on Sunday, when Mother’s Day was celebrated in Cuba. She said she tells women who have lost their sons or daughters in the explosion that they “have to keep going.”
The explosion further exacerbated the woes of a vital tourism industry, which was hit by the coronavirus pandemic as well as tighter restrictions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and those imposed by the Biden administration. Limited visits by American tourists to those islands and restricted remittances from Cuba in the US to their families in Cuba.
Tourism began to revive somewhat earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine cut short the surge of Russian visitors, who accounted for about a third of the tourists who visited Cuba last year.
Saratoga, which was closed due to the pandemic, was one of the elite residences in Havana, often hosting VIPs and celebrities. Its owner is one of the businesses of the Cuban military.