Rescue workers scoured for survivors after a large explosion rocked an upscale hotel in downtown Havana on Friday, killing at least eight people and injuring 30 others, Cuban officials said.
Residents and tourists scattered after the blast while police and rescue workers flocked to the area and started combing through the rubble left behind at the Hotel Saratoga, a five-star hotel in the historic center of Havana. The 19th century hotel is just across the street from Cuba’s Capitol building and frequents high-profile guests.
A preliminary investigation indicated the explosion was caused by a gas leak, according to a stream of updates posted on President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s Twitter account. Díaz-Canel arrived at the scene shortly after the explosion and then visited a hospital where victims are being treated, video and photos shared on social media show.
Updates posted by the president indicate Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, the first secretary of the Party in Havana, said at least 13 people are still missing and might be trapped. Video on social media showed crowds flocking to the rubble with their cell phones out and workers picking up large blocks, looking for any trace of those missing.
Photos published by Cuban news ACN and Granma, the Cuban communist party’s newspaper, showed severe damage to the hotel’s walls and clouds of smoke billowing into the sky. Taxi cabs outside the hotel were pancaked by slabs of concrete that fell in the blast, photos show. Nearby, dust and other rubble also covered iconic vintage cars, which Cuba is known for.
Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata said the hotel was undergoing renovations and no tourists were staying there, according to Granma.
Buses and cars outside the hotel were also destroyed and witnesses said a “massive blast” had occurred, CNN reported. A school next door had been evacuated.
Yazira de la Caridad, mother of two, said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel: “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I’ve still got my heart in my hand.”
Mayiee Pérez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I am fine, I am fine. They got us out,” but had been unable to reach him since.
The 96-room hotel has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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