- At least 22 people, including one child, were killed in an explosion at a hotel in Havana, Cuba.
- It is believed that the reason for what the authorities call the accident was a gas leak.
- Dozens were injured.
According to official figures, a powerful explosion due to an alleged gas leak erupted at a luxury hotel in central Havana, killing at least 22 people on Friday.
Rescuers pulled four bodies from the rubble early in the evening as they combed the remains of the prestigious Saratoga Hotel in search of survivors.
At least one woman with whom rescuers came in contact was alive in the rubble, officials said, adding that they believed more survivors were still trapped and that a dog team was looking for them.
The President of Cuba connects the massive explosion with a gas leak.
“It was neither a bomb nor an attack, it was an accident,” said Miguel Diaz-Canel, who arrived on the scene an hour after the blast, accompanied by the prime minister and president of the National Assembly.
“Compatriots and friends around the world. #Havana is in shock today,” he wrote on Twitter.
The latest death toll of 22 people, including at least one child, was announced in television news after a day when ambulances and paramedics raced through the center of Cuba’s historic capital.
Both the Ministry of Health and the Cuban presidency said dozens were injured, but gave different figures, ranging from 50 to 65 people.
The first four floors of the facility, which were closed to guests during the renovation, were blown up as a result of a morning blast that blew up clouds of dust and smoke.
The blast also tore off much of the facade, smashed windows and destroyed cars parked near the five-star hotel, which has hosted celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Rihanna in the past.
The dome of the neighboring Baptist church also collapsed.
Inside the hotel at the time were staff preparing for the opening after the renovation scheduled for next Tuesday.
Miguel Hernan Esteves, director of the Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital, said the two-year-old boy had undergone surgery due to a skull fracture.
“So far we have no information that the foreigner was injured or killed, but … this is preliminary information,” added Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia Granda.
Roberto Calzadil of the state-owned company Gaviota, which said the blast occurred while refueling.
Ambulances and firefighters arrived at the scene on Friday, and police cordoned off the area, dispersing people who rushed to a hotel near the symbolic building of the National Capitol of Havana, home to Congress before the Cuban Revolution.
He is also near the school, but the students were not injured, according to the presidency.
Rachel Garcia, a bicycle driver who was passing the hotel at the time of the explosion, said that “we felt a huge explosion and (saw) a cloud of dust … many people ran out.”
“A terrible explosion erupted, and everything collapsed,” said a woman with a dusty face, who declined to give her name.
According to the website of the Saratoga Hotel, it is an elite establishment with 96 rooms, two bars, two restaurants, a spa and a gym.
It was built in 1880 to house shops and converted into a hotel in 1933.
“The United States extends its heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the tragic bombing this morning,” U.S. Department of State spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was not canceling a trip to Cuba scheduled for Sunday.
“Our condolences are expressed to the victims and the victims, as well as to the people of our dear fraternal nation,” Ebrard tweeted.
Condolences also came from Bolivia, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Barel and Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela’s close Cuban ally, who said “the Cuban people have the solidarity and support of all peoples of the world,” and especially Venezuelans.