The latest death toll has risen to 32 and 19 remain missing following a powerful gas explosion at Hotel Saratoga in Havana, Cuba on Friday morning. The state-run company Gaviota that manages the hotel said 11 workers died in the blast and 13 remain missing.
Police and fire rescuers are combing through rubble for survivors after the explosion destroyed the famous hotel, right beside the Capitol. Any Cayman Islands residents who have visited Havana are likely to have passed Hotel Saratoga, right in the heart of Havana.
A gas leak is thought to be the cause of the explosion, according to the Cuban Presidential Office. Havana governor, Reinaldo Garcia Zapata, said the hotel was in the process of renovations and no tourists were staying there, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.
According to preliminary data, a child and a pregnant woman were among those who died, it said. The presidency also said 64 people have been hospitalized for injuries, including 14 minors. Cuban state TV said there are potential survivors trapped in the basement of the destroyed hotel.
Photos from the scene show severe damage to the multi-storey hotel, with much of the walls blown away exposing interior rooms and clouds of dust billowing into the sky.
Yazira de la Caridad, said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel. “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake. I’ve still got my heart in my hand,” the mother-of-two said.
Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and ambulance crews worked inside and a school next door was evacuated.
The 96-room four-star hotel is located in the historic centre of Old Havana and was remodelled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union.
It had become a popular venue for visiting government officials and celebrities and contains bars, restaurants, a spa, gym and rooftop pool.
Hotel Saratoga was built at the end of the 19th century and, by the 1930s, it was one of the most important hotels of the city.
Celebrities such as the writer Rafael Alberti have passed through Hotel Saratoga, whose visit is framed in a commemorative plaque of the building, which was reopened as a hotel in 2005.