Cuba: At least 27 people were killed in the blast at the hotel

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Another body was pulled Saturday from the wreckage of the Saratoga Hotel, an iconic neoclassical building in central Havana, much of which was destroyed by an explosion on Friday, raising the death toll to 27.

“We have a new death, (corpse) was retrieved from the scene of the disaster, which increases the death toll to 27” dead, said during a press conference Dr. Julio Gera, an official of the Ministry of Health, clarifying that it was a 57-year-old woman.

Independent Cuban media reported 19 missing people, publishing a list of their names and a contact telephone number. Authorities say 19 families are seeking news for their relatives.

Children and teenagers were four of the victims of the explosion, which was attributed to a gas leak.

Of the 81 people injured, 37 continued to be hospitalized yesterday, Dr Gera said.

No foreigners were present at the hotel, as the building remained closed for two years due to the pandemic and renovation work; workers and employees were preparing the premises for its reopening, scheduled for the day after Tuesday.

“At the time of the accident, the building had 51 employees (…), of whom 11 died as far as we know so far, 13 are missing, six are hospitalized and the rest were able to leave on time,” he explained during a press conference. Roberto Enriquez Calsadilla, a representative of the Gaviota tourist group.

“We have to move on”

Among the victims was a foreign, 29-year-old Spanish tourist who was walking near the hotel. Her husband, also a Spaniard, was seriously injured. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed solidarity with the two victims and their families, as well as “all our support for the Cuban people.”

“My daughter worked in Saratoga, she has been there (under the rubble) since yesterday at eight in the morning, I have not learned anything about her since then,” Yaoumaras Kompas told reporters with tears in her eyes, explaining that she did not find either some hospital, not even the morgue.

The search for the bodies or survivors continued last night in the two basements, where access is complicated by the huge amount of debris, a journalist of the French Agency found. On Friday afternoon, a woman had called for help from a basement.

“We have to move on, there may still be comrades down there, alive, and the longer we are late the less likely they are to survive,” said Ramiro Valdes, deputy prime minister and commander of a guerrilla unit in the 1959 revolution.

Two steps from the famous building of the Cuban parliament, the Saratoga, a 5-star hotel with 96 rooms, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, was the emblem of Old Havana and had hosted several celebrities in recent years, from Mick Jagger to Beyonce and Madonna.

But yesterday, it was unrecognizable, with its first four floors demolished by the explosion.

Removal of neighborhoods

Through Twitter, President Miguel Dias-Canel praised “the speed with which the population and government services mobilized.” “What prevailed was solidarity,” he added, as many Cubans went on Friday to donate blood for the wounded, in addition to those who immediately rushed to help.

Residents of nearby buildings, which were damaged by the explosion, were removed as a precaution, transferred to temporary reception centers, public television reported.

Built in 1880 to house shops, the building was converted into a hotel in 1993. Renovated – became more luxurious – in 2005.

The first data of the investigation indicate that the explosion was due to a gas leak during the refueling of the hotel by a tank truck with liquefied natural gas. The explosion took place the day before yesterday, Friday around 11:00 (local time; 18:00 Greek time).

The same day, the United States, Canada, the European Union and Venezuela expressed their condolences to the Cuban authorities. On Saturday, the Chinese government expressed “deep sorrow for the loss of life” in the accident, while Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed his condolences to his counterpart.

source: ΑΠΕ

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