Death toll rises to 30 at Havana hotel amid hunt for survivors
HAVANA (AP) — Search teams with dogs hunted Sunday through the ruins of a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital for survivors of a devastating explosion as authorities raised the known death toll at 30.
Hotel Saratoga, a 96-room five-star hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited, blowing the exterior walls onto the busy streets in the middle morning one block from the nation’s capitol. building on Friday.
On Sunday, Cuban authorities raised the known death toll to 30 from 27 even as crews continued to search for victims buried under piles of broken concrete. Several nearby 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 had suffered “extensive structural damage, with several collapsed or cracked walls and columns (and) the ceiling partially collapsed”, although no church staff were involved. been injured.
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The Health Ministry said 84 people were injured in Friday’s blast. Among the dead are four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured.
The ministry also released the names of those who died on Sunday. Some 24 people remained hospitalized.
On Saturday, a representative of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its employees were still missing. Governor Reinaldo García Zapata said Saturday night that 19 families had reported loved ones missing and rescue efforts would continue.
Authorities said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, but believed it was caused by a gas leak. A large crane hoisted a charred tanker truck out of the rubble on Saturday.
The burials of the victims have begun, according to municipal authorities. But some were still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.
“We hope that something will be known about my cousin’s mother,” Angela Acosta told The Associated Press near the site of the explosion. His relative, María de la Concepción Alard, lived in an apartment adjacent to the hotel with a black Labrador, which was rescued along with another dog on Sunday.
Crews worked to clear the streets around the hotel and by Saturday evening heavy foot traffic had resumed.
“There are mothers who are without their children today,” Matha Verde, a manicurist who strolled near Saratoga, said Sunday during the celebration of Mother’s Day in Cuba. She said she told women who had lost their sons or daughters in the blast that they “must keep going”.
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The blast added to the woes of a crucial tourism industry that had been stifled by the coronavirus pandemic as well as tougher sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and the continued Biden administration. These limited visits by American tourists to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the United States to their families in Cuba.
Tourism had started to pick up earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine deflated a boom in Russian visitors, who made up nearly a third of tourists who arrived in Cuba last year.
The Saratoga, which had been closed during the pandemic, was one of Havana’s elite accommodations, often hosting VIPs and visiting celebrities.
Some attention in Cuba has begun to turn to an official visit by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived Saturday evening at the end of a five-country tour that began in Central America.
López Obrador met Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Sunday, who awarded him the Order of José Marti “for his great achievements for humanity”.
Díaz-Canel’s office said in a tweet that López Obrador had said he would urge US President Joe Biden not to exclude Cuba from the Summit of the Americas he will host in Los Angeles in June.
Díaz-Canel visited Mexico during Independence Day celebrations last year. López Obrador recently spoke out against the US government’s apparent intention to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the upcoming summit.