Havana, May 8 (EFE).- Cuban health authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll in the gas leak blast at Havana’s Saratoga hotel to 30.
The Public Health Ministry (Minsap) at 11:30 am updated the figures for the tragedy that on Friday rocked the historic heart of the Cuban capital, one of the communist island’s tourist meccas.
Among the dead were four children and a pregnant woman. All of the dead were Cubans, most of them local Havana residents, except for Spanish citizen Cristina Lopez-Ceron Ugarte.
Authorities hiked the total number of people injured in the blast to 84, of whom 24 remain hospitalized, including 19 adults and five children.
Among those admitted to local medical centers, seven people are in critical condition and six are in serious condition, along with 11 who suffered lesser injuries.
Among the injured is one Cuban-American woman and one Spanish man, Cesar Roman Santalla, the husband of the Spanish woman who died.
Rescue and recovery work has been proceeding without pause as emergency teams comb through the wreckage of the hotel more than 48 hours after the powerful explosion that collapsed one section of the seven-story building and destroyed the street-facing facade of the three lower floors.
The efforts are focusing on digging down to the entrance to the building’s double basement, where it is thought that there could be more people trapped. On those two underground floors there was a storage area, stores and administrative offices.
Authorities have said that they are looking for 19 people, although that figure has not been updated even though the death toll has been raised, of whom 13 are hotel workers.
The mayor of the Old Havana district, Alexis Acosta, told EFE that the “rescue … activities” have been going on for the past 44 hours without pause.
“During the morning, intensive work was undertaken to be able to get to the hotel basement, which was the service area of the hotel where apparently the workers who were there (on Friday) were and who have still not shown up. They must be in that area,” he said.
The Cuban government has said that it seems that a gas leak was the proximate cause of the blast, as per a preliminary investigation. A commission has been established to probe the incident.
At the time of the explosion, a tanker truck carrying liquefied natural gas was parked in front of the hotel and refilling a hotel tank. It is believed that the hose through which the highly flammable LNG was flowing had a leak.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Friday had spoken of a “regrettable accident” and ruled out that the incident was caused by a “bomb” or some other attack.
Seventeen other nearby buildings were affected by the blast and in the coming days a technical evaluation of three city blocks, along with the hotel itself, will be made to determine whether the buildings are “salvageable” or must be razed.
The Saratoga was built in 1880 and since 1911 it has operated as a hotel. It was last restored in 2005, according to state-run Cuban media.
The five-star hotel was considered to be one of the most luxurious in the Cuban capital, located on the Paseo del Prado, one of the main avenues in Old Havana, in the historic heart of the city and one of its great attractions.
Gaviota, the state-run company that operates the Saratoga, said that only employees and company executives were inside the hotel at the time of the blast, which came amid preparations to re-open for guests after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.