(Havana) At least 22 people were killed and more than 50 injured on Friday after a large explosion, believed to be caused by a gas leak, partially destroyed the Saratoga Hotel in central Havana, Cuba.

Four corpses were brought out of the rubble in the early evening, the television news said, an hour after the announcement of an official toll reporting 18 deaths, including a child, and more than 50 injured.

Authorities said survivors were under the rubble and sent a canine squad to search for them, including a woman that rescuers had contact with.

Earlier, Miguel Garcia, director of the Calixto Garcia hospital where some of the injured are being treated, reported that eleven of them were “in extremely serious condition”.

“A two-year-old child is undergoing surgery for a fractured skull,” said Miguel Hernan EstĂ©vez, director of Hermanos Almejeiras Hospital.

For his part, the first secretary of the Communist Party in Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, had clarified at midday that “13 people (were) missing” and considered “possible that other people are trapped” under the rubble.

No foreigners are believed to be among the victims, authorities said.

Emblematic establishment of Old Havana with its green facade, the hotel, under construction, had been closed to tourists for two years.

Only workers and employees were inside preparing for its reopening, scheduled for May 10.

“According to the first findings, the explosion was caused by a gas leak”, is it specified on the Twitter account of the Cuban presidency.

According to the head of the historic district of the Cuban capital Alexis Costa Silva, quoted by the state media Cubadebate, a canister of liquid gas was being changed in the hotel.

The cook smelled gas and discovered a crack in the pipe and that was what caused the explosion.

“It was neither a bomb nor an attack, it was an unfortunate accident,” said President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who arrived there shortly after, wanting to put an end to rumors on social networks that evoked the attacks in the bomb that occurred in several hotels in the 1990s, sponsored by Cuban exiles.

Washington, through State Department spokesman Ned Price, conveyed its “sincere condolences to all affected by the tragic explosion.”

European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Twitter that he spoke with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez “to take an interest in the situation after the explosion in Havana and convey my condolences and solidarity with the Cuban people. “.

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, called his Cuban counterpart to express his condolences: “The Cuban people receive the solidarity and support of all the peoples of the world and in particular the Bolivarian people of Venezuela”.

The first four floors of the 5-star-rated Saratoga Hotel with its 96 rooms, two restaurants and rooftop pool were blown up in the blast, which occurred around 11 a.m. (3 p.m. GMT) and the ground was littered debris and pieces of glass, noted AFP journalists.

A few minutes after the explosion, a thick cloud of smoke and dust spread over the avenue du Prado, where this establishment is located, a stone’s throw from the famous Capitol.

There was “a huge” explosion and “a cloud of dust that reached the park (in front of the hotel, editor’s note), many people ran out”, testified to AFP Rogelio Garcia , driver of a pedicab which was passing in front of the Saratoga at the time of the tragedy.

“There was a terrible explosion and everything fell apart,” said a woman, her face covered in dust, who didn’t want to give her name.

A dozen ambulances and five fire engines were mobilized, AFP noted. At the end of the afternoon, the tanker truck was evacuated while a machine gradually cleared the rubble.

Several vehicles were destroyed near this hotel known to have hosted several celebrities in recent years including Mick Jagger, Beyoncé and Madonna.

Built in 1880 to house shops, the building was transformed into a hotel in 1933 and renovated to make it a luxury establishment in 2005.



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