Search continues for Cuba hotel blast survivors, death toll at 30

Four minors, a pregnant woman, and a Spanish tourist were killed in the hotel blast that injured more than 80.

rescue teams work at site of an explosion at a hotel in Havana
Rescue teams are working to extract survivors from the rubble of the devastated Hotel Saratoga [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

The death toll from an accidental explosion at a luxury hotel in central Havana has risen to 30 as firefighters continue to comb through the rubble.

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that 84 people had been injured by the blast and the dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured. Some 24 people remain hospitalised, some in critical condition.

The five-star Hotel Saratoga had been closed for business during renovation work, and many victims of the late-morning explosion on Friday were construction workers or hotel employees preparing for its reopening, which was to have been next week.

The first four floors of the establishment, which were closed to guests while being refurbished, were gutted in blast that sent dust and smoke billowing into the air and rubble tumbling to the ground.

A representative of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its workers remained missing.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel praised Cubans who had rushed to donate blood to help the wounded on Saturday.

“It is very regrettable what happened, the destruction, especially the loss of life, and also the people injured, but once again I want to highlight the speed with which the population and institutions mobilised,” he tweeted.

Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana
The first four floors of the Hotel Saratoga were heavily damaged in the explosion [Ramon Espinosa/AP]

The emblematic hotel overlooked Havana’s landmark Capitol building, which sustained broken glass and damaged masonry in the explosion while the dome of a nearby Baptist church collapsed.

The hotel was renovated in 2005 as part of the Cuban government’s revival of the Old Havana area and is owned by the Cuban military’s tourism business arm, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA.

The company said it is investigating the cause of the blast.

In a series of tweets on Friday afternoon, the president’s office said preliminary investigations indicated that a gas leak had caused the explosion. A large crane was seen hoisting a charred gas tanker out of the rubble on Saturday.

Burials for victims have begun, according to municipal authorities. But some were still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.

Crews have worked to clean up streets around the hotel and by late Saturday, substantial pedestrian traffic had resumed around the destroyed hotel.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies