Hotel Saratoga in Havana is 80% destroyed

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Personal sigue trabajando en las labores de remoción de escombros del Hotel Saratoga. (AFP)

On Tuesday it would have been reopened with all pomp after two years of closure, but the once luxurious Hotel Saratoga in Havana it is now a mass of rubble and twisted iron after an explosion that left at least 42 dead.

Administration officials said that 80 percent of the building is damagedwhile rescuers continue to work nonstop since Friday, when the explosion apparently occurred due to a gas leak in a tanker truck. Their tasks include lifting tons of rubble in search of the bodies of more victims.

“As a number one priority, the country’s leadership has given the search for our colleagues”Roberto Enríquez, spokesman for the Gaviota company, administrator of the Saratoga and one of the business entities of the Armed Forces, told a group of journalists. “When it’s over, we think we’re pretty close… there will be a multidisciplinary team, We already have it conceived, which will delve into the current situation of that property”.

“Today the installation is approximately 80 percent affected in view of the specialists, but all this has to be corroborated,” said Enríquez, who refused to indicate whether it would be demolished or whether it would be used as a hotel again.

Of the 51 workers who were part of the hotel or were working on the remodeling, 23 died, including two directors, technical services personnel, gastronomy, reception, security, marketing and insurance, Enríquez said. Three employees, two waitresses and a cook are still being searched in the rubble.

Dozens of people were injured during the explosion that occurred on Friday around 11 a.m. in the Saratoga, a building from the end of the 19th century located in the middle of Old Havana. The hotel had been closed to the public for two years due to the pandemic and after its remodeling it hoped to reopen precisely this Tuesday.

At the start of the rescue efforts, the governor of the city, Reinaldo García Zapata, said that 19 families had filed complaints for the absence of a member hotel workers, neighbors or passers-bybut since then a dozen bodies have been recovered. However, the number of missing persons is unknown.

A report Tuesday morning from the Ministry of Health reported that the death toll rose to 42 and that some 17 people remained hospitalized. Among the fatal victims were four children, a pregnant woman and a Spanish citizen on vacation who was traveling with her boyfriend who is hospitalizedfor the place.

During a meeting of a temporary monitoring group created by the government, the first secretary of the powerful Communist Party of the Capital, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, reported that 38 houses were affected and that 95 people had to be evacuated. Most were housed in a small hotel in the east of the city and the rest in the homes of relatives or friends, the official website said on Tuesday. Cubadebate.

Of the three apartment buildings heavily damaged in the blast, one of the buildings was technically determined to be demolished.

The accident occurred when the vital tourism sector was beginning to recover, the economic engine of the island that was affected by both covid-19 and the United States sanctions pressing for a change in the political model in the Caribbean nation and that limited travel permits for citizens of the North American country.

The Saratoga was the place that figures like Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z or the singer Madonna with their children chose to stay. Tourism officials dismissed the accident as a mishap for the sector in general.

“Cuba’s image will continue to be that of a destination of peace, tranquility and security”said the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism, Carmen Casals. “This is a terrible accident, we are sorry for the loss of human lives and the victims, but we are going to recover.”

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