By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ, Associated Press
HAVANA (AP) — A powerful explosion seriously damaged a hotel in the Cuban capital on Friday, and officials reported at least eight people had died.
The blast that ripped away large sections of the outer wall of 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 President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who went to the site.
It said at least eight people had been killed and that search and rescue efforts were underway for people possibly trapped.
The Communist Party newspaper Granma said local officials reported 13 people missing and about 30 known injured.
Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata said the hotel was in the process of renovations and no tourists were lodged there, Granma reported.
Photos showed much of the hotel’s outer wall blown away, exposing interior rooms, with clouds of dust billowing into the sky.
A school next door had been evacuated.
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.
The five-star, 96-room hotel in Old Havana has two bars, two restaurants, and a rooftop pool, according to its website.