Nine people were killed and 40 hurt when a powerful explosion, likely caused by a gas leak, ripped through a five-star hotel in central Havana Friday, the Cuban government said.
Rescuers combed through what remained of the prestigious Saratoga Hotel looking for survivors as ambulances ferried the injured to hospital and paramedics treated those with less severe ailments on the spot.
The first four floors of the establishment, which was empty of guests while being renovated, were gutted in the late-morning blast that sent a cloud of dust and smoke billowing into the air.
The blast tore off large parts of the facade, blew out windows and destroyed cars parked outside the hotel, which is known for having hosted celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Rihanna.
Inside the hotel at the time were employees preparing for its post-refurbishment reopening, scheduled for next Tuesday.
According to Miguel Garcia, director of the Calixto Garcia hospital treating some of the wounded, 11 were “in an extremely serious condition.”
“So far we have no information that any foreigner was either injured or killed, but… this is preliminary information,” added Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia Granda.
Roberto Calzadilla of state company Gaviota, which owns the hotel, said the explosion happened while a gas tank was being refilled.
Cuba was hit by a wave of anti-communist bombing attacks on hotels in 1997, in which an Italian tourist was killed and six people injured.
It is also next to a school, but no pupils were injured, according to the presidency.
“There was a terrible explosion and everything collapsed,” said a woman, her face covered in dust, who declined to give her name.
It was built in 1880 to house shops and converted into a hotel in 1933.
“Our solidarity to the victims and affected, as well as to the people of that dear brotherly people,” the minister tweeted.