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At least 18 dead in the explosion of a luxury hotel in Havana

Havana, May 6 (EFE) .- At least 18 people have died and another 64 have been injured, some extremely seriously, in a very strong explosion due to a gas leak in a luxury hotel in downtown Havana. The Cuban Presidency reported on Twitter that among the deceased there is a minor and a pregnant woman and that among the injured there are 14 minors (three critical and two serious). These figures are not definitive and could rise in the next few hours, as work progresses to remove debris from the Saratoga hotel, emblematic of Havana’s historic center. The president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who quickly went to the scene of the events, stressed that it was an “unfortunate accident” and ruled out that it was a bomb or an attack. He added that preliminary investigations point to a gas leak. He indicated that an investigation commission has been launched and also a plan to care for the families of the victims and the residents of the 17 residential buildings that have been affected by the explosion. The state tourism group Gaviota, owner of the Saratoga hotel, explained that the establishment was not open to the public, but that it was scheduled to reopen on May 10, after two years closed due to the pandemic. The building, however, was not empty. Inside was a team of employees, who were working on the set-up of the property, and a group of managers, who were participating in a meeting. The Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, assured that there are no foreigners among the injured. No details have been released about the deceased at this time. EXPLOSION AND COLLAPSE The event occurred minutes before 11 in the morning, when a liquefied gas tanker truck was serving a hotel tank. The most likely thesis is that the explosion was due to a crack in the truck’s hose. The explosion caused a section of the building -seven stories high- to collapse and the facade of the first three floors to come off, causing a rain of tons of rubble on a normally busy sidewalk. The tanker truck was partially buried. The explosion also caused a large column of smoke, which was visible in much of the capital. Firefighters, police officers and emergency teams quickly rushed to the scene of the events, taking those affected to several nearby hospitals. A group of specialists then began to clear the area in search of possible victims trapped in the building, tasks that lasted until night. At the same time, the damaged tanker truck, which still had highly flammable liquefied gas inside, was lifted with a crane and with great precautions, and it was deposited in a large truck for its transfer. In the next few days, a technical inspection of the building will have to be carried out to decide if it can be restored or if the structural damage warrants its demolition. HISTORIC CENTER AND TOURISM The Saratoga was located in a neoclassical-style building built in 1880 and had been operating as a hotel since 1911. After undergoing comprehensive reform, it was reopened in 2005. One of the most luxurious in the Cuban capital, among clients The Saratoga has highlighted the American artists Beyoncé and Madonna, the German dressmaker Karl Lagerfeld and the singer of the Rolling Stones, the British Mick Jagger. The hotel was located in the heart of the historic area of ​​Old Havana, next to the Capitol, one of the main tourist attractions in the country. The event takes place when the island’s tourism sector tries to reactivate itself after two years of forced hiatus due to the pandemic, which has exacerbated the country’s economic difficulties. Tourism is the second largest sector of the Cuban gross domestic product (GDP), with a contribution of 10% in 2019, and the second source of foreign exchange earnings. The Minister of Tourism pointed in this direction when he assured, upon visiting the scene of the incident, that the workers who were in the Saratoga had “tremendous hope in the recovery of the sector.” Cuba has received more than 450,000 tourists between January and April and hopes to achieve 2.5 million foreign visitors for the year as a whole. The figure is significantly higher than the previous year, but still far from the pre-pandemic volume. Governments of America and Europe, mainly, have sent a message of condolences to Cuba and shown their solidarity with the Caribbean country after this event. (c) EFE Agency

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