HAVANA ( Associated Press) — Rescuers continued to recover bodies Monday from the rubble of what was once a luxury hotel in Havana that exploded, leaving at least 35 dead and thousands of tons of debris.
Cooks, waitresses, cashiers, maintenance personnel, shop assistants, schoolchildren from a nearby educational center, neighbors and even a young Spanish tourist who was walking with her boyfriend are among the fatalities or the injured in the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga.
The work of removing rubble and waste has not stopped for a minute since the explosion that occurred on Friday around 11 in the morning, presumably due to a failure in the operation of a gas tanker truck that served the hotel.
The Ministry of Health indicated that 89 people were injured in the explosion, of which 20 are hospitalized and 35 died, a figure that rose with the discovery of four bodies by rescuers.
The governor of the province, Reinaldo García Zapata, reported that 19 families had reported the disappearance of loved ones -passers-by, neighbors and hotel workers-, but the exact number of people involved is unknown.
“I was standing outside the hotel, I didn’t feel the noise of the explosion but I did feel the huge dust and a lot of blood that ran through my body,” said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, a worker at the Gaviota company – the Cuban operator of the hotel – of 56 years to local media from the hospital where he was treated. He immediately ran to a theater in front where he was carried by a pedicab driver and a policeman to a health clinic.
In the same place was Guillermo Díaz, head of security at the Saratoga, who was participating in a meeting to fine-tune the details of the reopening of the hotel.
“Everything happened very quickly, when I came to I was under the rubble, I had no idea what was happening,” Diaz recalled. “I realized that he had wounds on his forehead, on his head. I had no strength, there were many colleagues next to me and I tried to help them, but to no avail”.
Ahead, in a primary school, 300 children were taking their classes when the shock wave hit. Five sustained minor injuries.
“The blast automatically lifted me out of my seat. And I was stunned,” said Kamil Llanez, a sixth grader. “Then everything became confusing.” The children were taken out by a teacher and picked up by parents, many of them neighbors.
Workers were at the school Monday removing debris and broken glass, The Associated Press reported. The minors were relocated to nearby schools where they resumed their classes.
Work also began on a nearby building that was badly affected and that became a stamp of devastation: without its facade, the interior of the apartments can be seen as if it were a dollhouse. In one of them, with the walls painted pink, you can see the photos of a fifteen-year-old girl miraculously still glued to the walls, a sofa with several teddy bears and a rocking chair.
“We do not know anything. It is also not in hospitals. The bodies that were taken out last night are from the hotel,” Ángela Acosta, a lawyer who is looking for her aunt, María Consuelo Alard, 77, who lived on the first floor of the building next to the Saratoga on the great Prado avenue, told the Associated Press on Monday. , meters from the Capitol, the seat of Parliament.
The day before, the rescuers managed to get a pet of the housewife out of the living room of that apartment, a black Labrador that according to the veterinarians is fine.
Among the deceased is the Spanish María López-Cerón, 29, who according to the Spanish media was a bank employee. The woman was vacationing with her partner César Román -who is seriously ill in the hospital- and together they passed in front of the hotel when the explosion occurred.
Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP