Search dogs deployed to Havana to find survivors as hotel death toll rises – Reuters

On Sunday, search teams with dogs searched the ruins of a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital for survivors of a devastating explosion, while officials raised the known death toll to 30.

Hotel Saratoga, a 96-room five-star hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited that blew the outer walls out onto busy streets in the middle of the morning a block from the nation’s capital. builds Friday.

On Sunday, Cuban authorities raised the known death toll to 30 from 27, though crews continued to search for victims buried under piles of crushed concrete. Several nearby structures were also damaged, including the historic Martí Theater and Calvary Baptist Church, the church community’s headquarters in western Cuba.

The church said on its Facebook page that the building suffered “extensive structural damage, with several walls and columns collapsing or cracking”. [and] the ceiling partially collapsed, ”though no church workers were injured.

The health ministry said 84 people were injured in Friday’s blast. Among the dead are four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured.

Rescuers remove debris from the ruins of the Saratoga Hotel on Saturday. (Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images)

The ministry also released the names of those who died Sunday. About 24 people remained hospitalized.

On Saturday, a representative of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its employees were still missing. Havana’s governor Reinaldo García Zapata said late Saturday that 19 families had reported their loved ones missing and rescue efforts would continue.

Authorities said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, but believed it was caused by a gas leak. A large crane on Saturday hoisted a charred tanker out of the rubble.

The funerals of the victims have begun according to the municipal authorities. But some were still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.

“We hope something will be known about my cousin’s mother,” Angela Acosta told the Associated Press near the blast site. His relative, Maria de la Concepcion Alard, lived in an apartment next to the hotel with a black labrador, who was rescued along with another dog on Sunday.

On Saturday, rescuers searched the rubble for survivors. (Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images)

Crews worked to clear the streets around the hotel, and by Saturday night, heavy pedestrian traffic had resumed.

“There are mothers who are without their children today,” said Matha Verde, a manicurist who strolled near Saratoga on Sunday during the celebration of Cuba’s Mother’s Day. She says she told women who lost their sons or daughters in the explosion that they “must continue”.

Tourism problems

The blast added to the problems of a crucial tourism industry that had been suffocated by the coronavirus pandemic as well as tougher sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and the continued Biden administration. These sanctions limited U.S. tourists’ visits to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the United States to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had begun to rise earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine put the air out of a boom in Russian visitors, which accounted for nearly a third of the tourists who arrived in Cuba last year.

The Saratoga, which had been closed during the pandemic, was one of Havana’s elite residences, often hosting VIPs and visiting celebrities.

Some attention in Cuba has begun to turn to an official visit by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived Saturday night and met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Sunday. López Obrador was about to end a five-country tour that began in Central America.

Díaz-Canel visited Mexico during the celebration of Independence Day last year. López Obrador recently spoke out against the US government’s apparent intention to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the US summit it will host in Los Angeles in June.

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