At least 20 people lost their lives in a massive explosion that destroyed the famous Saratoga Hotel in the Cuban capital, Havana.

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A massive explosion Friday at the famous Saratoga Hotel in the Cuban capital, Havana, killed at least 22 people and injured dozens. The explosion was caused by a gas leak, according to authorities, while only a few of the workers who supervised its preparation for its opening were at the hotel, which was under renovation. The Saratoga Hotel is a popular landmark in Havana and attracts a large number of celebrities such as Madonna, Beyoncé, Mick Jagger and Rihanna.

A powerful explosion occurred Friday at the Saratoga Hotel in the center The Cuban capital Havana was triggered by a gas leak that killed at least 22 people, injured more than fifty others and destroyed part of the hotel.

Local television reported in its news bulletin that four bodies had been exhumed from the rubble early in the evening. An hour earlier, the official death toll was 18 dead, including a child and more than 50 injured. Authorities said there were survivors under the rubble and sent a squad of dogs to search for them, including a woman with whom rescuers spoke.

Earlier, Julio Guerra, who is in charge of hospital services at the Ministry of Health, said during a press conference that “So far there are 74 injured, of which unfortunately 18 have died”, including a child. For its part, the Cuban presidency stated that the death toll from the blast reached 18 dead and 64 injured.

and presented Washington According to State Department spokeswoman Ned Price, “My sincere condolences to all those affected by the tragic explosion.”

On the other hand, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter that he spoke with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and offered his condolences, expressing his solidarity with the Cuban people.

For his part, Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, called on his Cuban counterpart to express his condolences, saying: “The Cuban people receive solidarity and support from all the peoples of the world. especially from the Bolivarian people of Venezuela. “

Earlier, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced on Twitter that “so far there are nine dead and 40 injured”, offering the families of the victims “the most sincere condolences”. The president’s tweet came shortly after Miguel Garcia, director of the Caleto Garcia hospital, to which a number of the injured were transferred, announced that 11 of the injured were “in very serious condition”.

For his part, Miguel Hernán Estevez, director of Hermanos Almijeras Hospital, said: “A two-year-old boy is undergoing surgery for a skull fracture.”

The first secretary of the Communist Party in the Cuban capital, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, had announced that “13 people are missing”, emphasizing that “search and rescue operations are continuing in the hotel, where others may remain” under ruins. According to authorities there are no foreign victims.

The hotel, which is a landmark of Old Havana, was under restoration and closed to tourists. There were only a handful of employees inside, who were finishing work to reopen it on May 10th.

The Cuban presidency noted on Twitter that “the first information indicates that the explosion was caused by a gas leak”.

And the Cubadebit government website quoted Alexis Costa Silva, a local official in the archeological district in the Cuban capital, as saying he was working to replace a liquefied gas cylinder at the hotel. The chef smelled the gas and noticed a crack in the cylinder, which caused the explosion.

Shortly after the blast, Diaz-Canel inspected the site and said: “There was no bomb, no attack, it was an unfortunate accident”, in a statement in which he called for an end to the rumors circulating on social media referring to the Attacks with bombs on several hotels in the country in the 1990s. Orchestrated by Cuban expatriates.

‘Terrible explosion’

The blast damaged the façade of the five-star Saratoga Hotel, which includes 96 rooms, two restaurants and a rooftop pool. The blast occurred around 11:00 (15:00 GMT), and AFP correspondents reported that the first four layers were completely destroyed, while debris and pieces of glass were scattered on the ground. A cloud of smoke and dust rose from the main Prado street in central Havana, where the hotel is located.

“There was a big explosion,” said Rogelio Garcia, a taxi driver passing by the hotel. “It was a terrible explosion and everything collapsed,” said a woman covered in dust, who did not want to be named.

The blast also destroyed several cars parked near the hotel, which in recent years is known to host many celebrities, including Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Rihanna. The building was built in 1880 and was intended for shops, but in 1933 it was converted into a hotel and then into a luxury hotel in 2005.

Security forces cordoned off the vicinity of the blast site and rescue teams began searching for possible victims under the rubble of the hotel. Dozens of ambulances and five fire engines, which were working to cool a gas tank, went to the scene. And in the afternoon the mechanism of removing some of the rubble began.

The president returned the injured to the hospital, where they were sent for treatment, urging doctors to make every effort to save the lives of the victims.

FRANCE 24 / AFP

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