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The Havana Hotel Toll Rises to 30; Dogs Find Survivors

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HAVANA (AP) — The search for survivors of a devastating explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital was carried out on Sunday by search crews using dogs, while the count of known dead has been raised to 30.

An apparent gas leak apparently ignited causing the hotel’s outer walls to come crashing down into the busy streets outside the cabal near the country’s Capitol building on Friday morning just one block from the hotel Saratoga, a 96-room five-star hotel in Old Havana that had been closed for two years.

Despite the efforts by search and rescue teams to find buried victims buried beneath piles of shattered concrete, Cuban officials on Sunday increased the known death toll to 30 from 27. The nearby Marti Theater and Calvary Baptist Church, the headquarters of the Cuban Baptist denomination in western Cuba, have also been damaged, including the historic theatre.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, rescue crews search for survivors at the site of the deadly explosion at Havana's five-star Hotel Saratoga on Friday.
On Saturday, May 7, 2022, rescue crews search for survivors at the site of the deadly explosion at Havana’s five-star Hotel Saratoga on Friday.

Several walls and columns in the church suffered cracks or collapsed, and the ceiling partially collapsed, both of which are affecting the buildings structural integrity, though no members of the church were injured in the incident.

Health Ministry officials said 84 people were injured in the explosion that occurred on Friday. Four minors were killed, as well as a pregnant woman, as well as a tourist from Spain, whose companion had been seriously injured.

On Sunday, the ministry also released the names of those who passed away. A total of 24 people remain in the hospital.

Photo released by the Cuban Presidency press office displaying Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visiting a woman at the Havana Amejeiras Hospital who was injured in the Saratoga hotel explosion on May 7, 2022.
Photo released by the Cuban Presidency press office displaying Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visiting a woman at the Havana Amejeiras Hospital who was injured in the Saratoga hotel explosion on May 7, 2022.

In a statement on Saturday, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said that 13 of its workers are still unaccounted for. In a statement issued Saturday evening, Governor Reinaldo Garca Zapata said that 19 families reported their loved ones as missing and that the rescue effort was continuing.

An investigation has been conducted to determine the cause of the explosion, but authorities believe that it was caused by a gas leak. As the rubble piled up, a large crane was used to lift charred gas tanks out from beneath it.

Apparently, the burying of victims has begun already, according to local authorities. Yet, it hasn’t been announced when the families and friends of the victims will be found.

In a comment to The Associated Press at the scene of the explosion, Angela Acosta said: “I hope there will be some information about my cousin’s mother.” Her relative, Mar*a de la Concepción Alard, lived in an apartment beside the hotel with a black Labrador he shared with another dog which was rescued on Sunday alongside it.

By late Saturday evening, the area around the hotel had been restored to a thriving pedestrian flow thanks to crews that had cleaned up the streets around the hotel.

During Mother’s Day on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day in Cuba, Matha Verde, a manicurist who was walking near the Saratoga, said the following: “There are mothers without their children today.”. According to her, she tells the women who lost their sons or daughters in the explosion that they “must keep going.”.

The explosion added to the woes of a vital tourism industry that was already in trouble due to the Coronavirus pandemic as well as the recent tightened sanctions imposed by former US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who kept the Biden administration in place. Those restrictions limited U.S. tourists’ ability to visit the islands and restricted Cubans living in the United States from sending money home to their families in Cuba.

As tourism had started to pick up somewhat earlier this year, the war in Ukraine has effectively deflated a boom of Russian visitors, who made up almost a third of all tourists that came to Cuba in 2014.

Saratoga, one of Havana’s elite hotels, was often hosted to VIPs, celebrities, and other dignitaries during the pandemic, and was therefore closed during the event. In 2013, Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed at the hotel together.

I found it striking that about 110 yards (100 meters) away from the emblematic hotel sat the domed Capitol Building, as well as the rest of Cuba’s center. There was broken glass and stucco damage at the Capitol as a result of the explosion.

 

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