Havana hotel explosion kills at least 8

A powerful explosion severely damaged a hotel in the Cuban capital on Friday and officials said at least eight people were dead.

The explosion that ripped off large sections of the exterior wall of Hotel Saratoga, a 19th-century structure in Old Havana, was apparently caused by a gas leak, according to the Twitter account of President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s office, who went to the site.

The account said at least eight people had been killed and search and rescue efforts were underway for those possibly trapped.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma said local authorities reported 13 people missing and around 30 injured.

Havana Governor Reinaldo Garcia Zapata said the hotel was being renovated and no tourists were staying there, Granma reported.

“I thought it was an earthquake”

Photos showed much of the hotel’s exterior wall blown away, exposing interior rooms, with clouds of dust rising into the sky. A nearby school had been evacuated.

Police cordoned off the area while firefighters and paramedics worked inside.

Rescuers work to clear the rubble after the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana. Officials said the hotel was undergoing renovations. (Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he was passing the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground and I still have a headache… Everything happened very quickly”.

Yazira de la Caridad said the blast rocked her home a block from the hotel.

“The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I always have my heart in my hand.”

Mayiee Perez said she rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a currency exchange inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I’m fine, I’m fine. They took us out,” but that he hadn’t been able to reach him since.

The five-star, 96-room hotel in Old Havana has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.