Explosion of a luxury hotel in the capital of Cuba, dozens of people were injured
A violent explosion destroyed a luxury hotel in the center of the Cuban capital Havana, killing at least nine people and injuring 40 others.
The Granma newspaper quoted Reinaldo García Zapata, the governor of Havana, as saying that the terrible incident happened on May 6 when no tourists were staying at the Saratoga hotel. The reason is that this 5-star hotel with 96 rooms is in the process of being renovated and upgraded.
“It was not a bombing or an attack. It was just a tragic accident,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on Twitter.
Cuban national television reported that the explosion was caused by a truck carrying natural gas for the hotel, but did not provide details on how the fuel ignited.
Video from the scene showed the explosion sending smoke billowing around the hotel. People poured into the streets in horror to witness what was happening, while cars honked loudly as they sped away from the scene.
According to Cuban media, at least nine people died. Cuban Health Minister José Ángel Portal told the AP news agency that hospitals in the capital had received about 40 injured people. The official said the number of victims could increase as authorities continued to search for people who may still be trapped under the ruins of this 19th-century hotel.
Local officials say 13 people are still missing. An elementary school next to the hotel was evacuated and no children were injured in the incident.
Police have cordoned off the area, while firefighters and rescuers are on duty at the scene just about 100 meters from the Cuban National Assembly building.
Hotel Saratoga was first renovated in 2005 under the government’s old Havana revival program and is now managed by the Cuban military’s Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA travel agency. The company said it was investigating the cause of the explosion.
According to the AP, the Saratoga hotel is a regular venue for VIP guests and politicians, including high-ranking US government delegations. Famous American singers Beyoncé and Jay Z used to stay here during their visit to Cuba in 2013.
The accident comes as Cuba is struggling to revive a key tourism industry that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides the negative impact of the pandemic, the tourism industry of this South American country is also suffering because of the embargoes imposed by the US since the time of former President Donald Trump. Those sanctions have restricted the number of tourists coming from the US as well as the remittance of remittances from Cubans in the US to their families in the country.
Cuban tourism began to revive earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine is sharply reducing Russian arrivals, which accounted for nearly a third of visitors to the island last year.
The explosion occurred as the Cuban government held the last day of a tourism conference in the famous seaside town of Varadero to attract investors.
A rare tornado hit the bay of Cienfuegos, Cuba, over the weekend.
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