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UPDATE: Havana blast toll spikes to 31 dead

The number of casualties of a massive explosion that rocked the Cuban capital of Havana on Friday, May 6, destroying a hotel in the city’s downtown, increased to 31 people and at least 80 injured, according to witnesses and state media.

Debunking rumours of an alleged bombing, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the blast at the historic, high-end Hotel Saratoga appeared to have been caused by a gas leak.

In no case was it a bomb or an attack,” he later told Reuters as he left the capital’s Calixto Garcia hospital, where many of the injured were being tended to. “It’s just a very unfortunate accident.”

Regardless, the blast shook the historic old Havana neighbourhood thirsty for tourists after the pandemic had hamstrung Cuba’s travel sector.

The explosion 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.

Housed in a more than century-old building, the hotel had been closed with only workers inside carrying out renovation works ahead of the establishment’s opening in the next few days.

Roberto Enrique Calzadilla, a representative of the military-run company that operates many
of the country’s hotels, said “the workers were… making repairs and doing all the work to open the property and in the morning they were resupplying the gas and it seems some accident caused an explosion.”

As the blast shrouded the building and surrounding streets in clouds of black smoke and dust, police and rescue workers swiftly cordoned off some nearby government buildings, including the historic Capitolio. At least one body covered with white cloth and a man carrying a woman screaming in pain was seen, Reuters reported.

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