Havana: 22 killed after 'gas leak' blast rips hotel apart
A massive explosion struck one of Cuba's most luxurious five-star hotels, killing at least 22 people and injuring 74 others. The explosion possibly was triggered by a gas leak from a tanker parked outside the Saratoga Hotel in Old Havana, as per a BBC report. It said the tanker caught fire, resulting in an explosion that devastated multiple stories of the hotel structure.
According to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, a pregnant woman and a child were among the deceased. Cuba's Ministry of Health said the explosion injured 74 persons, including 15 children. Meanwhile, search and rescue operations are underway to find anyone trapped beneath the rubble. Authorities have evacuated children safely from a nearby school that remained untouched by the explosion.
As per reports, the Cuban president has inspected the damaged site and confirmed that the explosion happened due to a gas leak. "It was not a bomb or an attack, it's an unfortunate accident," BBC quoted him as saying. The hotel was hit by this tragedy just as the country's tourism industry was slowly rebuilding itself after a two-year halt due to the pandemic.
Saratoga Hotel was prepping for a post-pandemic gala reopening after four days, according to officials. However, the iconic hotel has now turned into ruins after much of its outside wall got damaged in the blast. Witnesses said they saw plumes of black smoke and clouds of dust billowing into the sky following the explosion.
According to officials, the Saratoga Hotel is considered a historic monument in the Cuban capital's colonial center. The 19th-century hotel is also known for hosting several renowned personalities. It gained prominence after celebrities like Madonna, Beyonce, and Mick Jagger stayed there following a thaw in Cuba-US diplomatic relations during President Barack Obama's tenure. During much of the pandemic, though, it stayed closed for renovations.