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 eight people have been killed and about 30 others hospitalized after a large explosion destroyed part of a hotel in downtown Havana, the Cuban president’s office has said, citing local health officials.
In a series of tweets on Friday afternoon, the presidency said preliminary investigations indicated that the explosion at Hotel Saratoga was caused by a gas leak.
“So far, eight people have died and about 30 are hospitalised,” said the office, which earlier had reported that 13 people also were missing.
Photos from Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s official daily, showed images of the multi-storey hotel whose walls appeared to have been blown out by the blast.
Shortly after 11am local time (15:00 GMT), a cloud of dust and smoke billowed from the hotel.
Police and rescue workers flocked to the scene, cordoning off key points and buildings nearby, including the historic Capitolio building.
The five-star, 96-room hotel in Old Havana has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.
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 Cuban President Miguel 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 Havana, his office said.
Ruaridh Nicoll contributed reporting from Havana.
Al Jazeera and news agencies