HAVANA (NewsNation) — At least nine people are dead and up to 13 remain missing after a powerful explosion damaged a hotel in Cuba’s capital Friday, government media reported.
Photos obtained by Reuters showed severe damage to the Hotel Saratoga, a 19th-century structure in Havana, and clouds of dust billowing into the sky. The blast was apparently caused by a gas leak, according to the Twitter account of the office of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who went to the site.
Police and rescue workers flocked to the scene, cordoning off key points and buildings nearby, including the historic Capitolio building. Search and rescue efforts are underway for people possibly trapped
The semiofficial website Cubadebate reported that clinics were treating people who had been injured and that several ambulances had gone to the scene. It said a school next door had been evacuated. Hospitals have received about 40 people injured but that number can rise as the search continues.
The president of Cuba, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, tweeted a response after the incident, saying “the cause was not a bomb or attack. It tragic accident.”
Retired Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said on NewsNation’s Rush Hour Friday that processes in the U.S. are more complex and would not lead to such a quick conclusion.
“The president of a country is obviously looking to keep his nation safe but he’s also putting that political spin on any statements they make. That’s just a fact of politics,” Marc Bashoor said.
“As a fire chief, we would never make that (pronouncement) so quickly. We’re not going to focus just on gas, we’re going to look at all potential causes,” he continued.
The explosion shook Yazira de la Caridad’s house, which is a block from the hotel.
“The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I’ve still got my heart in my hand.”
The five-star Hotel Saratoga was remodeled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union and was considered the place to go for visiting government officials and celebrities for many years.
It has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website, and had been set for a post-pandemic reopening in four days, per its Facebook page.
Previous guests of this hotel include Beyoncé and Jay-Z who made a visit in 2013. The very next year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and an entire delegation of lawmakers also made a trip to the five-star hotel.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.