Death toll from Cuba hotel explosion rises to 43 – most hotel workers

HAVANA – The elegant Hotel Saratoga was due to reopen in Havana on Tuesday after a two-year pandemic hiatus. Instead, it was a day of mourning for the 43 people known to have died in an explosion that ripped through the building.

Rescuers continued to search for more victims in the ruins as experts began to ponder the fate of a 19th-century building, a former warehouse turned into a hotel at the start of the last century.

Roberto Enriquez, spokesman for the military tourism company Gaviota which operates the Saratoga, said early estimates from experts were that 80% of the hotel was damaged by Friday’s explosion, which threw tons of pieces of concrete in busy streets one block from the nation’s Capitol and badly damaged nearby structures.

He said when rescue efforts are complete, authorities will take a deeper look at what to do with the structure.

Officials reported Tuesday evening that a 43rd body had been found, but it was not immediately known whether 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 reception staff, security staff and technicians. He said three workers were still missing, believed to be buried under the rubble.

Authorities said they suspected the cause was a gas leak as a tanker truck serviced the building.

The health ministry said on Tuesday evening that the total death toll had risen to 43, including at least one Spanish tourist. Seventeen people remained hospitalized.

Havana Communist Party leader Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar said 38 homes were affected by the blast and 95 people needed to be relocated, according to the official Cubadebate website.

He said one of the nearby buildings should be demolished.

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