Disasters & Accidents

Havana hotel explosion death toll raised to 40

Havana, May 9 (EFE).- The Cuban Public Health Ministry (Minsap) on Monday raised the official death toll to 40 in the gas leak explosion that last week destroyed much of Havana’s luxury Saratoga hotel.

The figure was hiked by nine over the past 24 hours as rescue teams have managed to gain access to the two-story basement area under the hotel, where authorities had suspected that at least a dozen people might be trapped.

The dead range in age from 10 to 77, including four children and a pregnant woman. All of them were Cubans except for a 29-year-old Spanish woman.

Minsap, meanwhile, said that the number of injured was raised to 94, of whom 18 are still being treated in six capital hospitals. Of the hospitalized victims, six are in critical condition and seven are in serious condition. A total of 36 people injured in the Friday blast have been released after receiving medical care.

According to relatives of the people who are still missing in the tragedy, estimates are that 12 or 13 people are still somewhere in the ruins of the hotel, although that number will no doubt become more specific as rescue workers continue to dig through the rubble and comb through the two basement floors, where a number of people were working at the time of the blast.

The double-basement area contained stores, a storage area and several administrative offices.

Brigades of firefighters and emergency rescue teams have been continuing their efforts without pause, removing rubble to gain access to the basement area.

The collapse of the ground and first floor of the hotel onto the basement entrance is making the rescue task difficult and workers have had difficulty with the heavy machinery brought to the site to clear away the debris due to the risk that the now unstable building could collapse further.

Hopes for finding survivors among the ruins of the hotel have been dwindling as time has elapsed, with it now being 72 hours since the incident.

Cuban authorities have said that the search and rescue efforts will not be discontinued until it can be confirmed that nobody still remains alive under the ruins.

“We will not stop the (rescue) work until the last worker whose family is awaiting them at home (is found),” the mayor of Old Havana, Alexis Acosta, told EFE from the vicinity of the Saratoga hotel.

The hotel was not in operation at the time of the incident, but 51 workers were inside the building preparing it for its reopening, which had been scheduled for this Wednesday.

The Cuban government has reiterated on several occasions since the explosion on Friday morning that a gas leak led to the blast, although a commission is investigating the incident.

At the time of the explosion, a tanker truck carrying liquefied natural gas was parked in front of the hotel to refill a tank there. It is believed that the hose through which the LNG was flowing had a leak and that a stray spark ignited the high flammable vapors.

Seventeen other nearby buildings were damaged by the powerful blast wave and in the coming days experts will technically evaluate all buildings in a three-block section of Old Havana, along with the hotel itself, to determine if the buildings can be salvaged or need to be razed.

The Saratoga was built in 1880 and since 1911 it has operated at a hotel. Its latest restoration took place in 2005 when the building was thoroughly renovated.

The five-star luxury hotel is located on the Paseo del Prado in Havana’s historic heart, the zone most visited by foreign tourists visiting Cuba.

EFE rmo/jpm/eat/bp

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