The Cuban presidency said on Twitter that the explosion caused a gas leak, according to preliminary results.
At least 22 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured Friday after a powerful explosion, likely caused by a gas leak that partially destroyed the Saratoga hotel in central Havana, Cuba.
The television news reported that four bodies were recovered from under the rubble early this evening, an hour after the official toll was announced, killing 18 people, including a child, and wounding more than 50 others.
Survivors search for rubble
Authorities said survivors were under the rubble and sent a squad of dogs to search for them, including a woman who was contacted by rescuers.
Earlier, Miguel Garcia, director of the Calixto Garcia Hospital where some of the wounded are treated, stated that eleven of them were “in a very serious condition”. “A two-year-old is undergoing surgery for a skull fracture,” said Miguel Hernán Estevez, director of Hermanos Algiers Hospital.
For his part, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Irribar, determined this afternoon that “13 people (missing)” and considered “it is possible that there are other people stuck” under the rubble. Authorities said no foreigners were believed to be among the victims.
A symbolic hotel in the Cuban capital
A symbolic creation of Old Havana with its green facade, the hotel, under construction, has been closed to tourists for two years. Only workers and employees inside were preparing for its reopening, scheduled for May 10.
“According to the first discoveries, the explosion was caused by a gas leak,” he stated on the Twitter account of the Cuban presidency.
According to the head of the historic district of the Cuban capital, Alexis Costa Silva, quoted by state media, Cubadebat, a liquid gas cylinder has been changed in the hotel. The cook smelled gas and discovered a crack in the pipe that caused the explosion.
“It was neither a bomb nor an attack, it was an unfortunate accident,” said President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
He got there soon after, wanting to put an end to the rumors on social networks that provoked the bombings that took place in many hotels in the 90s, at the behest of Cuban exiles.
My sincere condolences from Washington
Washington quoted State Department spokesman Ned Price, “its sincere condolences to all those affected by the tragic explosion.”
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said on Twitter that he had spoken with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez “to take care of the situation after the explosion in Havana and to convey to him my condolences and solidarity with the Cuban people.”
Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, called on his Cuban counterpart to express his condolences, saying: “The Cuban people receive the solidarity and support of all the peoples of the world and especially the Bolivarian Venezuelan people.”
The first four floors of the Saratoga, a 5-star hotel with 96 rooms, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, were blown up in the explosion around 11 a.m. (5 p.m. Paris time) and the ground erupted. AFP journalists pointed to scattered debris and shards of glass.
A few minutes after the explosion, a thick cloud of smoke and dust spread over the Rue de Prado, where this facility is located, a stone’s throw from the famous Capitol building.
There was a “massive explosion” and “a cloud of dust reached the park (in front of the hotel, editor’s note), a lot of people ran out,” according to the testimony of Agence France-Presse – Rogelio Garcia, the driver of the passenger car she passed in front of Saratoga at the time of the tragedy.
“There was a terrible explosion and everything collapsed,” said a woman, her face covered in dust, and who did not want to be named.
The Agence France-Presse that 12 ambulances and five fire engines were mobilized. At the end of the afternoon, the tanker was evacuated while a machine was gradually removing the debris. Several vehicles have been destroyed near this hotel which is known for hosting many celebrities in recent years including Mick Jagger, Beyoncé and Madonna.
Built in 1880 to house shops, the building was converted into a hotel in 1933 and renovated into a luxury facility in 2005.