Havana Hotel Toll Rises to 30, Dogs Search for Survivors

HAVANA — Search crews with dogs hunted through the ruins of a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital Sunday for survivors of an apparent gas explosion and officials raised the number of known dead to 30.

Hotel Saratoga is a 5-star hotel with 96 rooms in Old Havana. It was about to reopen following a two-year closure. On Friday, an apparent gas leak created a huge explosion.

On Sunday, Cuban officials raised the death toll to thirty from 27. Crews were still searching for victims in the blast, which tore the outer walls of the building. It also damaged several other structures around the area, including Calvary Baptist Church (the headquarters for the religion in western Cuba) and the Marti Theater.

According to Health Ministry, 84 persons were injured. These included four minors and one Spanish tourist. Their companion sustained serious injuries.

According to the Health Ministry, 24 were still in hospital.

Grupo De Turismo Gaviota SA representative said that 13 workers were still missing from the hotel on Saturday. Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata said Saturday evening that 19 families had reported loved ones missing and that rescue efforts would continue.

Officials said that the explosion occurred due to a gas leak, although they are still investigating the matter. On Saturday, a crane lifted a gas tanker that had been charred from the rubble.

The explosion is another blow to the country’s crucial tourism industry.

Crews worked tirelessly to clear the streets. By late Saturday night, pedestrian traffic was back on its feet. Other nearby structures were also severely damaged in the blast that rattled walls and broke windows.

Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Cuba was already struggling to keep tourists from the island. The country had been subject to tightened sanctions by the former U.S. president Donald Trump. These restrictions on U.S. tourism to Cuban islands resulted in a restricted flow of remittances to Cuban families from Cubans living in the U.S.

Although tourism had begun to recover somewhat earlier this year, the conflict in Ukraine slowed a surge of Russian tourists who made up almost one-third of all visitors to Cuba in the last year.

Attention began to shift to an official visit by Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived in the capital Saturday night. López Obrador was wrapping up a five-country tour that began in Central America.

Cuba President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Mexico during its independence day celebrations last year. López Obrador has recently spoken out against the apparent U.S. government intention of excluding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas it will host in Los Angeles in June.

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