Cuban hotel blast death toll rises to 35, official says

Rescue teams are combing through the rubble of the historic Hotel Saratoga, where a massive explosion also injured dozens.

Rescue workers walk in front of the Saratoga Hotel in Havana, Cuba
Cuba's tourism ministry said 51 workers were inside the hotel at the time of the blast on Friday morning [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

The death toll from a massive explosion at a hotel in downtown Havana late last week has risen to 35, a Cuban official said, as rescue workers pulled four more bodies from the rubble.

Rescue workers on Monday continued to comb through the debris of the historic Hotel Saratoga, after Friday’s blast ripped off large parts of the building’s facade, destroyed its first four floors, and sent large plumes of smoke and dust into the air.

The search is now focused on the basement and subbasement of the building.

“It is at a very dangerous stage because of the concentration of rubble and the danger of collapse,” fire department head Luis Carlos Guzman told state television on Monday, updating the death toll.

The country’s tourism ministry said 51 workers were inside the hotel at the time of the blast.

Javier Martinez, a Havana city official, also told reporters on Monday morning that the bodies of four hotel workers were discovered overnight, but he cited the official death toll, given the night before by health officials, of 31.

“There remains a group of … 12, 13 people who are still missing,” Martinez said after conferring with the outgoing shift of overnight rescue workers at the hotel. “The priority continues to be to try to find survivors and to continue advancing in the search for bodies as well.”

The five-star establishment was closed for renovations and was readying for its post-refurbishment reopening this week.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who visited the hotel shortly after the explosion on Friday morning, said last week that the authorities believed the blast was caused by a gas leak.

On Monday, Diaz-Canel thanked Red Cross workers for their work during recent “difficult days”.

The ACN state news agency said the four bodies found overnight on Monday were those of hotel workers.

“According to family members, it is estimated that there are about 12 or 13 people still trapped,” the news agency added.

On Sunday, officials said 24 people were receiving treatment in hospital.

A 29-year-old Spanish tourist, who had been walking nearby, was among the fatalities, who also included four children and a pregnant woman.

Before sunrise on Monday, heavy machinery scooped up piles of debris, clearing away access to the basement of the building, where officials said they hope they could still find survivors.

The lucky few who emerged alive from the building recalled the chaos from the explosion.

“I had no idea what was happening,” Guillermo Diaz, the hotel’s security chief, told Cuban state media.

“I began to struggle a bit, I managed to get out … I had wounds on my forehead, on my head. I had no strength and many colleagues next to me, I tried to help them, but it was totally in vain.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies