Cuban president’s office says a preliminary investigation indicates blast at Hotel Saratoga was caused by a gas leak.
Published On 6 May 2022
At least nine people have been killed and about 40 others injured after a large explosion ripped through a hotel in downtown Havana, the Cuban government has said.
In a series of tweets on Friday afternoon, President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s office said preliminary investigations indicated that the explosion at the five-star Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana was caused by a gas leak.
“To date, nine reported dead and 40 injured,” Diaz-Canel, who had visited the site of the explosion and victims in hospital, said on Twitter, extending his “deepest condolences” to the victims’ loved ones.
The hotel’s first four floors were gutted in the late-morning explosion that sent a cloud of dust and smoke billowing into the air. It tore off large parts of the facade, blew out windows and destroyed cars parked outside the hotel, while the dome of a nearby Baptist church also collapsed.
The establishment – a 96-room hotel that has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website – was empty of guests while being renovated.
Police and rescue workers flocked to the scene, cordoning off key points and buildings nearby, including the historic Capitolio building.
“Search and rescue work continues in the hotel, where it is possible that other people are trapped,” Havana Communist Party official Luis Antonio Torres Iribar said, with several people reported missing.
The hotel was remodelled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union and was considered the place to go for visiting government officials and celebrities for many years.
It had been set for a post-pandemic reopening in four days, according to its Facebook page.
The hotel had been closed and only workers were inside at the time of the explosion, Cuban state television reported, citing Roberto Enrique Calzadilla, a representative of the military-run company that operates many of the country’s hotels.
“The workers were … making repairs and doing all the work to open the property and in the morning they were resupplying the gas and it seems some accident caused an explosion,” Calzadilla said.
Jazz Martinez-Gamboa, a theatre director, told Al Jazeera he narrowly avoided the blast area.
“I was just about to cross the street and got a phone call. Luckily I stopped for a few seconds. When I began crossing again there was a huge explosion and the building began collapsing from what seemed like the second floor,” he said.
“People were all along the street waiting for taxis. They started to scream and everyone began to run.”
Anabel Regueiferas Granados was teaching a class of primary schoolchildren at Concepcion Arenal de Ponte, which stands opposite the hotel, when the explosion occurred.
“It was horrible,” she told Al Jazeera as she recovered in Havana’s nearby Central Park.
“I would never want to go through that again. I have a pain in my arm and I think it was because when it was over, I stretched out my arm to get all the children out.”
Another teacher, Martha Borrell Zamora, was teaching mathematics to 20 fourth-graders when the explosion shattered the classroom’s windows, causing a large piece of plaster to fall on her desk and the blackboard to bulge out towards her.
She said some children suffered small cuts from the glass but were otherwise unhurt.
“We heard two explosions, the first stronger than the second. Since I arrived early in the morning I had smelled gas,” Borrell Zamora told Al Jazeera. “The glass was flying and the children were very scared.”
About midday on Friday, the office of President Diaz-Canel tweeted photos of him at the site of the explosion alongside other state officials, including the prime minister. Diaz-Canel also later visited injured patients at hospitals in the capital.
Ruaridh Nicoll contributed reporting from Havana.
Al Jazeera and news agencies