Crews work until 2nd night after Cuba hotel explosion kills 27

Rescue teams remove debris from the site of a deadly explosion that destroyed the five-star Saratoga hotel, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 6, 2022. A powerful explosion apparently caused by a natural gas leak killed at least 18 people, including a pregnant woman and a child, and dozens injured on Friday when it blew through the exterior walls of the luxury hotel in the heart of the Cuban capital.  (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Rescue teams remove debris from the site of a deadly explosion that destroyed the five-star Saratoga hotel, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 6, 2022. A powerful explosion apparently caused by a natural gas leak killed at least 18 people, including a pregnant woman and a child, and dozens injured on Friday when it blew through the exterior walls of the luxury hotel in the heart of the Cuban capital. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

PA

Crews worked for a second night searching for victims of a hotel explosion that killed at least 27 people in the Cuban capital and left more than a dozen missing among the rubble.

Hotel Saratoga, a 96-room luxury hotel in Old Havana, was completing renovations when an apparent gas leak caused a massive explosion on Friday.

Just steps from Cuba’s capital, the Saratoga’s facade was sheared off, burying workers inside and apparently passers-by outside under concrete and twisted metal. The explosion occurred in the late morning when the streets and square in front of the majestic hotel were reportedly full of pedestrians.

On Saturday evening, Dr. Julio Guerra Izquierdo, head of hospital services at the Ministry of Health, brought the toll to 27 dead and 81 injured. The dead included four children and a pregnant woman. Spanish President Pedro Sánchez said via Twitter that a Spanish tourist was among the dead and another Spaniard was seriously injured.

Some 37 people remained hospitalized, according to the Ministry of Health.

Earlier on Saturday afternoon, a representative from Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its employees were still missing. Governor Reinaldo García Zapata said Saturday night that 19 families had reported loved ones missing and rescue efforts would continue.

At least one survivor was found early Saturday in the shattered ruins.

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

The explosion is another blow to the country’s crucial tourism industry.

Crews worked actively to clear surrounding streets and by Saturday evening heavy foot traffic had resumed. Some nearby buildings were also heavily damaged by the blast, which blew out windows and shook walls.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic kept tourists away from Cuba, the country was grappling with tougher sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and keeping the Biden administration in place. These limited visits by American tourists to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the United States to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had started to pick up earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine deflated a boom in Russian visitors, who made up nearly a third of tourists who arrived in Cuba last year.

Attention has started to shift to an official visit by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived in the capital on Saturday evening. López Obrador was wrapping up a five-country tour that started in Central America.

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

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