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22 dead, dozens injured in blast at historic hotel in Cuba

Officials say the explosion, which destroyed a luxury hotel and nearby buildings in central Havana, was caused by a gas leak. (Photo by Reuters)

An explosion hit a well-known hotel in downtown Havana on Friday, leaving at least 22 people dead and more than 70 injured.

The blast appeared to have been caused by a gas leak, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote on Twitter.

“Havana is in shock today after the accidental explosion of a gas tank at the Hotel Saratoga, which caused a large part of the building to collapse,’’ he said. “Our deepest condolences and sincere support to the families and friends of the victims.”

“This wasn’t in any way a bomb or an attack,” he told reporters at the scene. It was “an unfortunate accident.”

The blast destroyed parts of the luxury hotel and damaged nearby buildings just yards from the Cuban Capitol building.

Cuba's tourism minister, Juan Carlos Garcia, said no foreigners were killed or injured in the blast, according to initial reports.

"The workers were ... making repairs and doing all the work to open the property and in the morning they were resupplying the gas," said Roberto Enrique Calzadilla, a representative of the military-run company that operates many of the country's hotels.

Videos and photos shared on social media showed ambulances rushing to the scene and much of the facade of the Hotel Saratoga destroyed. Rubble was piled on the street, and smoke billowed into the sky.

“There was a stink, like a chemical, that burned your nose,” said Miriam Díaz, 56, a Havana resident who lives behind the hotel and was on a bus arriving home at the time of the blast. “We couldn’t get out because the door wouldn’t open.”

The blast rattled a nearby school with more than 300 students in attendance, health authorities said. At least 15 children were reported injured as of late Friday evening, the health ministry said, and one child had died.

According to government officials, the hotel which is a popular destination for tourists was undergoing renovation work and was not open to visitors and guests at the time of the explosion.

The devastating blast came as Cuba is trying to revive a tourism industry that is a key pillar of its fragile economy and that had been upended by the pandemic.

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