Death toll from Havana hotel blast rises to 31 as rescuers and dogs scour for survivors

Burials for victims have begun while some people still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives

Johanna Chisholm
Monday 09 May 2022 19:05
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Eight dead after major explosion at Cuban hotel
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The death toll for a violent explosion that tore through a luxury 19th century hotel in Cuba’s capital has climbed to at least 31 people, while firefighters and dogs continued to comb rubble to try and locate any more survivors.

Alexis Acosta, the mayor of Havana’s old quarter, told reporters that the search-and-rescue operation would not stop until every missing person had been located, alive or not, from The Hotel Saratoga.

“Until they are found I do not think there will be an end” to the rescue operation, Mr Acosta told the AFP.

The cause behind the violent explosion on Friday that ripped the historic facade from the front of the five-star hotel , which is owned by Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA and completely gutted the first four floors, is still under investigation, authorities said, but a gas leak is thought to be the probable cause.

A charred gas container has been removed from the carnage of the bent metal frames and cracked stones, some of which were thrown as far as 300ft, away from the scene of the blast.

Firefighters remove debris from the ruins of the Saratoga Hotel, in Havana, on May 6, 2022

Authorities have also corrected the number of injured persons from the explosion to 54 with 24 requiring hospitalisation, which was down from the originally reported figure of 85.

Officials have also begun to identify some of the victims, which included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose travelling companion had suffered serious injuries, the Health Ministry said.

Rescuers search for survivors at the site of Friday's deadly explosion that destroyed the five-star Hotel Saratoga

None of the 96 rooms at the luxury hotel were occupied at the time of the explosion, as the property was undergoing renovations in preparation of reopening its doors to visitors after a two-year hiatus.

Because of this, many of the victims killed in the late-morning blast were hotel employees, such as construction workers and cleaning staff, who were busying themselves ahead of the scheduled reopening.

Burials for victims had begun, municipal authorities said, while some people still waited for news of missing friends and relatives.

A rescuer looks out from the site of Friday's deadly explosion that destroyed the five-star Hotel Saratoga during a search for survivors

Residents in the area reported that the late Friday morning blast felt comparable to an earthquake, while CNN Havana bureau chief Patrick Oppman tweeted that the area around the “iconic hotel” was “a horrible scene of destruction”.

The historic building, constructed in 1860 to serve as a warehouse, began welcoming guests as a hotel in 1933 and then began its second life as a luxury offering following renovations in 2005, and has since played host to visiting celebrities such as Beyonce, Jay-Z, Madonna and Mick Jagger.

On Mother’s Day, celebrated in Cuba on Sunday as rescue workers continued to scour through the ruins, residents passing by the debris offered their condolences for the women who would no longer be receiving warm wishes from their kids on the annual holiday after they were tragically lost in Friday’s explosion.

“There are mothers who are without their children today,” Matha Verde, a manicurist who was walking near the Saratoga, told the Associated Press.

“We are hoping that something will be known about my cousin’s mother,” said Angela Acosta in a separate interview with the Associated Press, telling the news agency that her relative, María de la Concepción Alard, lived in an apartment close by to the site of the blast with her black Labrador, which was rescued along with another dog Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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