Havana, May 14 (EFE).- Thousands of people gathered on Friday for a vigil in Havana in memory of the victims of a deadly explosion at a Cuban hotel that left 46 dead and nearly 100 injured.
The 24-hour vigil in the ‘Parque de la Fraternidad’ near the debris of the damaged Saratoga Hotel in Havana began at 7 pm.
Mourning relatives, seated in the front row, gave a tearful and floral farewell to the deceased and lighted candles in front of the portraits of the dead.
The participants observed a minute of silence at 9 in the evening.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel led the ceremony, broadcast live on several Cuban state television channels.
Firefighters, public health workers, and employees of the destroyed hotel were also present.
The president tweeted a message of solidarity for the families and friends of the 46 victims of the accident.
“Hopefully the solidarity of so many compatriots alleviates their sorrows. Your loved ones will stay #AlwaysWithUs.”
Hundreds of people lined up to participate in the tribute and join the mourners.
Except for Spanish tourist Cristina Lopez-Ceron Ugarte, Cubans account for all victims of the May 6 explosion.
Cuban authorities formally ended the search and rescue operation Thursday after teams found the body of the last person listed as missing.
Gaviota, the state-run tourism company that operates the Saratoga, said only employees and company executives were inside the hotel when the blast occurred amid preparations to re-open for guests on May 10 after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tourism is one of the main drivers of the Cuban economy.
The country is going through an economic crisis due to the pandemic and sanctions by the United States.
Authorities said a leak of liquefied natural gas caused the explosion as the highly flammable fuel was being transferred from a delivery truck to the storage tank.
The explosion gutted the lower half of the six-story hotel in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), and tons of rubble littered the street below.
Friday marked the start of two days of official mourning declared by President Diaz-Canel.
The Saratoga first opened its doors in 1933 in a neoclassical structure dating from 1880. The building underwent a major restoration in 2005.
The five-starred Saratoga is one of the most luxurious hotels in Havana. EFE