Disasters & Accidents

Questions remain a year after deadly blast at historic Cuban hotel

Havana, May 6 (EFE).- More than a year after 47 people died in an explosion at one of Havana’s most fashionable hotels, Cubans continue to wait for the official report on the cause and for word on what is to become of the establishment, whose skeleton stands as a silent reminder of the disaster.

It was 10:51 am on May 6, 2022, when the blast blew out the walls and windows of the six-story Hotel Saratoga and damaged 17 neighboring buildings, spurring panic in the heart of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

The explosion occurred as more than 11,000 liters (2,906 gal.) of liquefied natural gas was being transferred from a delivery truck to the hotel’s storage tank.

Gaviota, the state-run tourism 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.

Even so, the 47 fatalities included a Spanish tourist, four minors, and a pregnant woman.

Nearly a hundred other people were injured.

The seat of parliament and Teatro Marti, where a constituent assembly drafted independent Cuba’s first constitution in 1901, were among the adjacent buildings to suffer damage, along with a school, a church, and four residential complexes.

Firefighters, Red Cross personnel, and other first responders swarmed the area within minutes of the explosion and the search for survivors and bodies amid the rubble went on for days.

Once the search and rescue operation ended, crews came in to clear the rubble with an eye toward salvaging the structure, but a final decision on rebuilding the hotel is still pending.

The Saratoga first opened its doors in 1933 in a structure dating from 1880. The building underwent a major restoration in 2005, but the distinctive neoclassical facade was preserved.

Since that restoration, the Saratoga has become the preferred place to stay for affluent tourists from abroad, including celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyonce – on the occasion of their fifth wedding anniversary – and Madonna, who celebrated her 58th birthday in Havana.

Katy Perry and members of the Kardashian clan have also lodged at the Saratoga and in 2017, designer Karl Lagerfeld made the hotel his base of operations for an open-air Chanel fashion show on the seaside Paseo del Prado. EFE rmo/dr

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