Death toll rises to 22 in Havana hotel explosion, suspected gas leak

  • At least 22 people, including a child, have been killed in an explosion at a hotel in Havana, Cuba.
  • A gas leak is believed to be the cause of what authorities have labeled an accident.
  • Dozens were injured.

A powerful explosion from a suspected gas leak ripped through a luxury hotel in central Havana, killing at least 22 people on Friday, according to official data.

Rescuers retrieved four bodies from the rubble early in the evening as they searched for survivors through what was left of the prestigious Saratoga Hotel.

At least one woman rescuers contacted was living in the rubble, officials said, adding they believed more survivors were trapped and a dog team was looking for them.

Cuba’s president attributed the massive explosion to a gas leak.

“It was not a bomb or an attack, it was an unfortunate accident,” said Miguel Diaz-Canel, who arrived on the scene an hour after the blast, accompanied by the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the National Assembly.

“Compatriots and friends around the world. #Havana is in shock today,” he tweeted.

The latest death toll of 22, including at least one child, was announced on television news after a day as ambulances and paramedics swept through the center of Cuba’s historic capital.

Both the health ministry and the Cuban presidency said dozens were injured, but cited varying numbers, ranging from 50 to 65 people.

The first four floors of the establishment, closed to guests during the renovation, were gutted by the late morning blast, sending a cloud of dust and smoke billowing into the air.

The explosion also tore large parts of the facade, blew out windows and destroyed cars parked outside the five-star hotel, which has previously hosted celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Rihanna.

The dome of a nearby Baptist church also collapsed.

At the time, staff at the hotel were preparing to reopen after the renovation, scheduled for next Tuesday.

Miguel Hernan Estevez, director of Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital, said a two-year-old boy had undergone surgery for a skull fracture.

“So far we have no information that a foreigner has been injured or killed, but… this is preliminary information,” added Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia Granda.

no bomb

Roberto Calzadilla of state-owned Gaviota, owner of the hotel, said the explosion happened while a gas tank was being refilled.

Ambulances and fire trucks arrived on the scene Friday, and police cordoned off the area, dispersing people who swarmed to the hotel near Havana’s emblematic National Capitol Building, which had housed the convention prior to the Cuban Revolution.

It is also next to a school, but no students were injured, according to the presidency.

Rogelio Garcia, a pedicab driver who was passing the hotel at the time of the blast, said that “we felt a huge explosion and (saw) a cloud of dust…a lot of people ran away.”

“There was a terrible explosion and everything collapsed,” said a woman, her face covered in dust, who refused to give her name.

According to the Saratoga Hotel’s website, it is an upscale establishment with 96 rooms, two bars, two restaurants, a spa and gym.

It was built in 1880 to house shops and converted into a hotel in 1933.

“The United States extends its sincere condolences to all those affected by the tragic explosion this morning,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, meanwhile, said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would not cancel a trip to Cuba scheduled for Sunday.

“Our condolences go out to the victims and those affected, as well as the people of our dear sister nation,” Ebrard tweeted.

Condolences also poured in from Bolivia, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and Nicolas Maduro, the president of close Cuban ally Venezuela, who said that “the Cuban people have the solidarity and support of all the peoples of the world” and especially Venezuelans.

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