HAVANA: An explosion hit a well-known hotel in downtown Havana on Friday, tearing a gash several floors high into the side of the building and killing nine people.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel, speaking from the scene of the disaster on Cuban television, said the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga had not been caused by a bomb, adding that a gas leak appeared to be the most likely cause.
State TV said the blast had left nine people dead and over thirty injured.
Photos from Granma, the Communist Party’s official daily, showed images of the multi-storey hotel with walls apparently blown out.
An eyewitness saw smoke and flames coming from the building. Police and rescue workers flocked to the area, cordoning off key points and buildings nearby.
A photo from the scene showed what appeared to be at least one body on the scene with a white cloth over it.
Nearby, ambulances were seen approaching a hospital in the old quarter of Havana, surrounded by a crowd of doctors, nurses, police and curious onlookers.
The neoclassical style 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. Recently, it had lost some of its shine with the opening of new hotels in Havana, but was still a five-star venue.
The hotel had been set for a post-pandemic reopening in four days, according to its Facebook page.
Published in Dawn,May 7th, 2022