Havana hotel toll rises to 30; dogs search for survivors

AP , Sunday 8 May 2022

Search crews with dogs on Sunday hunted through the ruins of a luxury hotel in Cuba's capital for survivors of a devastating explosion while officials raised the number of known dead to 30.

Saratoga Hotel, Cuba
Rescuers recover a body at the site of Friday s deadly explosion that destroyed the five-star Hotel Saratoga, in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 7, 2022. AP


The Hotel Saratoga, a five-star 96-room hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited, blowing the outer walls into the busy, midmorning streets just a block from the country's Capitol building on Friday.

Cuban officials on Sunday raised the known death toll to 30 from 27 even as crews continued to search for victims buried beneath piles of shattered concrete. Several nearby structures also were damaged, including the historic Marti Theater and the Calvary Baptist Church, headquarters for the denomination in western Cuba.

The Health Ministry said 84 people had been injured. The dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured.

The ministry on Sunday also released the names of those who died. Some 24 people remained hospitalized.

On Saturday, a representative of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its workers remained missing. Gov. Reinaldo Garcia Zapata said Saturday evening that 19 families had reported loved ones missing and that rescue efforts would continue.

Authorities said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, but believed it to have been caused by a gas leak. A large crane hoisted a charred gas tanker out of the rubble Saturday.

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

``We are hoping that something will be known about my cousin's mother,'' Angela Acosta told The Associated Press near the site of the explosion. Her relative, Maria de la Concepcion Alard, lived in an apartment adjacent to the hotel with a black Labrador, which was also missing.

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

The explosion added to the woes of a crucial tourism industry that had been stifled by the coronavirus pandemic as well as tightened sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump and kept in place the Biden administration. Those limited visits by U.S. tourists to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the U.S. to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had started to revive somewhat early this year, but the war in Ukraine deflated a boom of Russian visitors, who accounted for almost a third of the tourists arriving in Cuba last year.

The Saratoga, which had been closed through the pandemic, was one of the elite lodgings in Havana, often hosting visiting VIPs and celebrities.

Some attention in Cuba began to shift to an official visit by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who arrived Saturday night and met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Sunday. Lopez Obrador was wrapping up a five-country tour that began in Central America.

Diaz-Canel visited Mexico during its independence day celebrations last year. Lopez Obrador has recently spoken out against the apparent U.S. government intention of excluding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas it will host in Los Angeles in June.

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