Havana hotel blast: rescuers search rubble as death toll rises to 27

Gas leak suspected to be cause of explosion at the luxury Hotel Saratoga undergoing renovation

Rescue crews searched the rubble of a luxury hotel in Havana on Sunday with more than a dozen people still missing two days after a blast that tore off its facade and killed at least 27 people.

The Hotel Saratoga, a 96-room property in the Old Havana area of Cuba's capital, was in the final stages of renovation work when an apparent gas leak produced a massive explosion on Friday.

The blast buried workers inside and passersby outside under concrete and twisted metal. The explosion came in the late morning when the streets and plaza in front of the stately hotel would have been full of pedestrians.

A rescuer looks out from rubble of the five-star Hotel Saratoga in Havana, Cuba.  AP Photo

No survivors were found in the upper floors of the hotel and rescuers said they were concentrating their efforts on the debris filling the two-level basement of the neoclassical building.

Dr Julio Guerra Izquierdo, chief of hospital services at the Ministry of Health, raised the death toll to 27 on Saturday evening, with 81 people injured. The dead included four children and a pregnant woman. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter that a Spanish tourist was among the dead and that another Spaniard was seriously injured.

The health ministry said 37 people were still being treated in hospital.

Eleven hotel employees have been identified among the dead, said Roberto Enriquez Calzadilla, a spokesman for the state-run tourism group Gaviota, which operates the Saratoga.

He said 13 workers remained missing. Havana Governor Reinaldo Garcia Zapata said 19 families had reported loved ones missing.

Authorities said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, but believed it to have been caused by a gas leak.

Mr Calzadilla said the explosion happened while a gas tank was being refilled by a tanker truck.

A large crane hoisted a charred gas tanker out of the rubble on Saturday.

Updated: May 08, 2022, 3:54 PM