HAVANA (CBSMiami/AP) — At least 25 people are dead and dozens injured following a powerful explosion at a hotel in the Cuban capital on Friday.
The blast at the Hotel Saratoga, a 19th-century structure in Old Havana, apparently was due to a gas leak, according to the Twitter account of the office of Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, who went to the site.
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There were no tourists being lodged at the 96-room hotel because it was undergoing renovations, Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata told the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
Photos published by government news media showed much of the hotel’s outer wall blown away, exposing interior rooms, with clouds of dust billowing into the sky.
Granma said local officials reported 13 people missing and about 30 known injured. A school next door was evacuated and local news media said none of the children had been hurt.
Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and ambulance crews worked inside.
Photographer Michel Figueroa said he had been walking past the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground, and my head still hurts…. Everything was very fast.”
Yazira de la Caridad, mother of two, said the explosion shook her home 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.”
Mayiee Pérez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I am fine, I am fine. They got us out,” but had been unable to reach him since.
CBS4 spoke to a witness on the island who was walking in front of the hotel when the explosion happened.
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“I was right in front of the hotel when I heard it, but I wasn’t looking at the hotel, what I thought it was and sounded like an artillery gun salute…normally what they use during parades, but it sounded stronger.”
The witness we spoke to said Cuban officials told the people in the streets it was caused by a gas truck.
“Right in front of the corner of the hotel, it exploded and I looked back and what they’re telling me is that there was a truck, a gas truck transporting gas, but I couldn’t see the truck due to the explosion.”
In Miami, Sylvia Iriondo, an organization member of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance said her heart is broken by the news.
“It is a tragedy and we still don’t know how many dead… how many injured,” said Iriondo.
She fears for people in Miami who may have family near there and are worried for their safety.
“There’s going to be a lot of people concerned about family members in Cuba. We hope for the sake of all those families, the sake of the victims and the sake of some of our fellow members of this community that truthful and transparent information comes forward.”
Although there are no concrete plans right now, they will be talking about ways to help those who were injured in Cuba, or possibly hold a vigil at some point soon.
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(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)