26 dead, 80 injured in explosion at Hotel Saratoga in Havana, Cuba

The death toll from an explosion at one of Havana’s most luxurious hotels rose to 26 on Saturday as rescuers continued to search for possible survivors at the partially collapsed Hotel Saratoga, Cuban state media reported.

The explosion at the 96-room hotel on Friday afternoon was apparently caused by a natural gas leak, but Cuban Tourism Minister Dalila González said Saturday that the cause of the explosion was still under investigation.

The 19th-century structure in the Old Havana neighborhood was undergoing renovations ahead of a planned reopening on Tuesday.

Representatives from Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said during a press conference on Saturday that 51 workers were inside the hotel when the explosion occurred, as well as two people working on renovations. Of them, 11 were killed, 13 remained missing and six were hospitalized.

The Cuban Ministry of Health confirmed that 80 injured, including about 15 children, were injured by the explosion. Of the injured, 46 remained hospitalized on Saturday.

The names of all the fatal victims were broadcast on Cuban state television on Saturday afternoon. The dead include four minors, a pregnant woman and at least one tourist from Spain, Cuban authorities said.

The blast also damaged 23 nearby buildings, including one adjacent to the hotel that had 15 apartments completely destroyed.

At least one survivor was found early Saturday morning in the rubble.

Relatives of the disappeared have been desperately searching for their loved ones in the morgue and hospitals. When they are unsuccessful, they gather outside the wrecked hotel where rescuers and search dogs continue to climb huge chunks of concrete in search of more survivors.

The site of the Hotel Saratoga explosion in Havana, Cuba
The site of the Hotel Saratoga explosion in Havana, Cuba.Robert Leon/NBC News

Yatmara Cobas, the 27-year-old mother of a housekeeper, was standing outside the rescue perimeter waiting for news of her daughter Shaidis Cobas, who had been inside the Hotel Saratoga since Friday morning.

“I don’t know anything about her,” Cobas said. “She’s not in the morgue, she’s not in the hospital.”

The rescue operation is still ongoing with teams working to create a safe path to reach people believed to be trapped in the hotel basement.

The site of the Saratoga Hotel explosion
Rescue workers at the site of the Hotel Saratoga explosion in Havana, Cuba, on May 7, 2022.Robert Leon/NBC News

Lt. Col. Enrique Peña said authorities don’t know if the trapped victims are dead or alive.

In a couple of twitter postsCuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel lamented what happened on Friday, “all the destruction, but above all the loss of life, and also of injuries.”

“But once again I want to highlight the speed with which the population and the institutions were mobilized,” Diaz Canel said in Spanish. “My greatest appreciation to the rescuers and rescue forces who have not rested in the search for survivors and in the essential work of removing debris from the #HotelSaratoga and its surroundings.”

According to Havana Governor Reinaldo García Zapata, structures adjacent to the hotel were being assessed, including two badly damaged apartment buildings.

Díaz-Canel added that the families of the affected buildings were transferred to safer places.

Rescue workers at the Saratoga Hotel
Rescue workers at the site of the Hotel Saratoga explosion in Havana, Cuba, on May 7, 2022.Roberto Leon/NBC News

The Hotel Saratoga had an impressive view of central Cuba, including the domed Capitol building some 110 yards (100 meters) away. The Capitol suffered broken glass and damaged masonry from the blast.

The iconic hotel is on the US Department of State’s 2020 list of prohibited accommodations for US citizens.

In the past, the Hotel Saratoga has been used by visiting personalities and political figures, including high-ranking US government delegations. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed there in 2013.

Associated Press Y ed agustin contributed.

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