HAVANA — The elegant Hotel Saratoga was supposed to reopen in Havana on Tuesday after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Instead, it was a day of mourning for the 43 people known to have been killed in an explosion that ripped through the building.
Emergency workers continued to search the ruins for other victims as experts began to consider the fate of the 19th-century building, a former warehouse that had been converted into a hotel early in the last century.
Roberto Enríquez, a spokesman for the military-owned Gaviota tourism company that operates the Saratoga, said initial estimates by experts are that 80% of the hotel was damaged in Friday’s explosion, which hurled tons of chunks of concrete. to busy streets just one block from the nation’s Capitol and severely damaged neighboring structures.
He said that when rescue efforts are over, authorities will further investigate what to do with the structure.
Authorities reported late Tuesday that body number 43 had been found, but it was not immediately known if the latest victim worked at the hotel.
Enriques said earlier in the day that 51 people were working to prepare the hotel for its reopening, and 23 of them were among the confirmed dead: executives and maids, cooks and receptionists, security personnel and technicians. He said three workers were still missing and were believed to be buried under the rubble.
Authorities have said they suspect the cause was a gas leak when a tanker truck was servicing the building.
The Health Ministry said Tuesday night that the total death toll had risen to 43, including at least one Spanish tourist. Seventeen people remained hospitalized.
The head of the Havana Communist Party, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, said that 38 homes were affected by the explosion and 95 people had to be relocated, according to the official Cubadebate website.
He said that one of the neighboring buildings would have to be demolished.