Cubans adapt a month after devastating hotel explosion

Hundreds of Baptists have been meeting at an open-air amphitheater in Havana on recent Sundays

Via AP news wire
Tuesday 14 June 2022 20:00 BST

The worshippers pray beneath a torrid sun, taking shelter beneath umbrellas or some of the few trees that border the Amphitheater of Old Havana, just a strip of highway from the channel into the city's harbor.

Hundreds of Baptists have been meeting on open-air bleachers set atop stone tiers for services on recent Sundays because their sanctuary, the 19th century Calvary Church, was severely damaged by an explosion at the neighboring Hotel Saratoga just over a month ago.

The May 6 blast, apparently caused by a gas leak, killed 46 people, including hotel workers, residents of neighboring houses and passersby — though those in the church itself were spared. Officials say two people remain hospitalized.

The Rev. David González said the government had offered use of the amphitheater, about 10 blocks from the damaged church, for the time being.

“All signs are hopeful” that the church can be restored,” González said. “A significant part will have to be demolished, perhaps the affected columns, the homes (next door), but in general it seems like the structure can be saved. ... It will be a long process.”

The church was just one of the architectural casualties of the blast that occurred little more than a block from Cuba's Capitol building: A school, a theater and at least three apartment buildings were damaged.

The five-star hotel itself, one of the jewels of Havana's tourism industry, was left in ruins. Officials have not yet said whether they will try to save the structure, which is now largely covered by sheets of metal.

Most of the recovery effort so far has been to remove debris and restore traffic in a key part of the city center.

Nightmares still haunt those who survived.

“My house was wall to wall with the Hotel Saratoga,” said Onaylis Suárez, a 29-year-old teacher married to Rev. González. “The floor shook. I was paralyzed for three seconds and the window of the room opened up and was blown into the street by the expansive wave....

“A lot of things went through my mind. I thought the church was falling. I thought it was a bomb. What I felt is that I had to flee.”

More than a score of families who lived in the damaged structures are staying in a city shelter pending construction of new apartments while others, like Suárez, have been staying with relatives.

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