Four people were killed and 19 injured when a powerful explosion ripped the facade off a hotel in the Cuban capital, sending plumes of dust into the air and leaving debris strewn across the street in Havana’s historic center.
Speaking at the scene shortly after, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel ruled out a bomb, saying initial investigations suggested the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga was caused by a gas leak.
At least 13 people were missing after the explosion, according to Cuban officials.
Photos released by government media showed much of the hotel’s exterior wall blown away, revealing interior rooms, with clouds of dust billowing into the sky.
The five-star hotel in Old Havana has 96 rooms but was closed at the time of the explosion.
The neoclassical-style hotel was remodeled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union and was considered the place to be for visiting government officials and celebrities for many years.
Madonna and Beyoncé have both stayed at the five-star hotel, although it had recently lost some of its shine with the opening of new hotels in Havana.
The hotel was scheduled for a post-pandemic reopening in four days, according to its Facebook page.
The building is adjacent to a school and within walking distance of the historic Capitol building.
Police and rescuers flocked to the scene, cordoning off key points and nearby buildings, including the Capitol building.
Mayiee Pérez said she rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a money exchange house inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I’m fine, I’m fine. They took us out,” but she had been unable to communicate with him since.
Yazira de la Caridad, a mother of two, told the AP that the explosion rocked her home a block from the hotel. “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I still have my heart in my hand.”
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