18 dead after explosion tears apart five-star Saratoga hotel in Havana | International

Eighteen people, including a child and a pregnant woman, were killed in a powerful explosion that destroyed a large part of the Hotel Saratoga, a luxury hotel in the historic center of Havana, and left several injured, said the Cuban authorities.

The explosion, which occurred around 11 a.m., raised a plume of smoke and ash and shocked pedestrians passing through one of the busiest places in the Cuban capital.

The death toll, initially reported at four, rose as search and rescue efforts continued into the evening. In the afternoon, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel confirmed the death of nine people. By evening, the death toll had risen to 18, the presidential office said.

Among the dead are a pregnant woman and a child. No other details about their identity have been made public. The presidential office said 50 adults and 14 children were hospitalized.

Preliminary investigations indicate a gas leak, Díaz-Canel told reporters gathered at the scene in the afternoon.

“It wasn’t a bomb or an attack, it was an unfortunate accident,” he said.

Díaz-Canel and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero visited some of the hospitals treating the victims. Five children, including three from a nearby school that was evacuated, were lightly injured, an education ministry official said. An 11-year-old girl suffered a head injury and was admitted to an intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Central Havana, the hospital director said.

Cuban state media reported that there were no guests at the hotel as it was undergoing repairs. The hotel was due to reopen on May 10 after being closed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the explosion, it was not immediately clear whether the structure, first built in 1880, could be salvaged.

Pictures and videos show extensive damage to several floors of the six-story building, but it was still standing. Three floors lost walls and windows, and a store on the ground floor was reduced to rubble.

Several videos circulating on social media show dozens of people rushing to the scene, as well as members of the police and firefighters. Before police can cordon off the area, videos show civilians trying to rescue someone trapped in the rubble.

A Baptist church next to the hotel also lost its roof, according to images published by independent media 14ymedio. Díaz-Canel said two residential buildings were also badly damaged by the blast.

With eclectic architecture and steps from Central Park and the Cuban Capitol, the 19th-century building was restored and reopened as a five-star luxury hotel in 2005. Several Cuban Americans and business personalities have stayed here when they accompanied President Barack Obama. during his visit to Cuba in 2016.

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