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Powerful explosion at Havana Hotel kills at least 9 people and injures 40 people | Associated Press

Havana (AP) — At least nine people were killed and 40 injured in a powerful explosion apparently caused by a gas leak on Friday when a wall was blown from a luxury hotel in the heart of the Cuban capital.

Havana Governor Reynard Garcia Zapata told the Communist newspaper Grandma that the 96-room Hotel Saratoga in Havana was under renovation and was not staying for tourists.

“It was neither a bomb nor an attack,” President Miguel Diaz Cannell, who visited the site, said in a tweet.

Cuban state television reported that the explosion was caused by a truck that was supplying the hotel with natural gas, but did not provide details on how the gas ignited.

The blast sent smoke into the air around the hotel, and the street people were in awe, saying “Oh my god” and honking when the car left the scene. It happened when Cuba struggled to revive a major tourism sector devastated by a coronavirus pandemic.

Cuba’s state television reported that at least nine people had died, and Cuban State Health Minister Jose Angel Portal told The Associated Press that the hospital had accepted about 40 injured.

But he said the number of injured could increase as the search for people who might be trapped in the rubble of 19th-century buildings in the city’s Old Havana district continued.

Granma reported that local officials said 13 people were missing.

“We are looking for a large number of people who may still be under the rubble,” said Lieutenant Colonel Noel Silva of the Fire Department.

The elementary school next to the hotel was evacuated. Two 6-year-old boys and a 2-year-old boy were among the injured, according to hospital officials treating them. It is unknown if the older boy was a student.

Police blocked the area as firefighters and rescue workers struggled in the wreckage of an iconic hotel about 110 yards (100 meters) from the Cuban Parliament.

The hotel was first renovated in 2005 as part of the Cuban government’s revival of Old Havana and is owned by the Cuban Army’s tourism division, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA. The company said it was investigating the cause of the explosion and did not immediately respond to an email asking for more information about the hotel and the renovations it was making.

Hotel Saratoga has been frequently used by visiting politicians, including VIPs and senior delegations of the US government. Beyonce and Jay-Z stayed there when they visited Cuba in 2013.

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he was passing the hotel, saying, “The explosion caused me to fall to the ground and my head still hurts … everything was very fast.”

Worried relatives of those who worked at the hotel appeared in the hospital in the afternoon looking for them. Among them was Beatrice Cespedes Cobas, who was looking for her sister in tears.

“She had to work today. She’s a housekeeper,” she said. “I work two blocks away. I felt the noise, and at first I didn’t even associate the blast with the hotel.

Yazira de la Caridad said the explosion shook her house one block away from the hotel. She thought it was an earthquake. “

In addition to the pandemic impact on Cuba’s tourism sector, the country was suffering from sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump, who was already maintained by the Biden administration. Sanctions have restricted US tourists’ visits to the island and restricted remittances from Cubans in the United States to Cuban families.

Tourism began to revive slightly earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine stopped the boom of Russian tourists, who make up almost one-third of the tourists who arrived in Cuba last year.

The explosion occurred when the Cuban government hosted the final day of a tourism tournament in the iconic beach town of Varadero, which aimed to attract investors.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is expected to arrive in Havana late Saturday, and Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Evlad said the visit will continue.

Mayiee Pérez said she hurried to the hotel after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at the hotel’s forex store.

She said he said to her: “I’m fine, I’m fine. They took us out.” But then she couldn’t contact him.

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Powerful explosion at Havana Hotel kills at least 9 people and injures 40 people | Associated Press

Source link Powerful explosion at Havana Hotel kills at least 9 people and injures 40 people | Associated Press

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