Explosion damages hotel in Cuban capital; 8 deaths reported

HAVANA (AP) — A powerful explosion apparently caused by a gas leak blew away much of the outer walls from a five-star hotel in the heart of Cuba’s capital on Friday and officials reported at least eight people had died.

But no tourists were lodged at the 96-room Hotel Saratoga because it was undergoing renovations, Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata told the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The early morning blast that devastated the 19th century structure in Old Havana apparently was due to a gas leak, according to the Twitter account of the office of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who went to the site.

It said at least eight people had been killed and that search and rescue efforts were underway for people possible trapped.

Granma said local officials reported 13 people missing and about 30 known injured. A school next door was evacuated and local news media said none of the children had been hurt.

Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and ambulance crews worked inside.

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he had been walking past the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground, and my head still hurts…. Everything was very fast.”

Yazira de la Caridad, mother of two, said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel: “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I’ve still got my heart in my hand.”

Mayiee Pérez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I am fine, I am fine. They got us out,” but had been unable to reach him since.

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