The death toll of an explosion at one of Havana’s most luxurious hotels grew to 26 on Saturday as rescuers continued searching for possible survivors at the partially collapsed Hotel Saratoga, Cuban state media reported.
The blast at the 96-room hotel Friday afternoon was apparently caused by a natural gas leak, but Cuba's Tourism Minister Dalila González said Saturday the cause of the explosion was still under investigation.
The 19th-century structure in the Old Havana neighborhood was being renovated ahead of a planned reopening Tuesday.
Representatives of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said during a news conference Saturday that 51 workers were inside the hotel when the blast happened as well as two people working on renovations. Of those, 11 were killed, 13 remained missing and six were hospitalized.
The names of all the fatal victims were broadcasted by Cuban state television Saturday afternoon. The dead include four minors, a pregnant woman, and at least one tourist from Spain, Cuban authorities said.
The blast also damaged 23 nearby buildings, including one adjacent to the hotel which had 15 apartments completely destroyed.
At least one survivor was found early Saturday in the rubble.
Relatives of those who remain missing have been desperately searching for their loved ones in the morgue and in hospitals. When unsuccessful, they gather outside the wrecked hotel where rescuers and search dogs continue clambering over huge chunks of concrete looking for more survivors.
Yatmara Cobas, the mother of a 27-year-old housekeeper, was standing outside the rescue perimeter waiting for word of her daughter Shaidis Cobas, who had been inside Hotel Saratoga since Friday morning.
“I don’t know anything about her,” Cobas said. “She’s not at the morgue, she’s not in the hospital.”
The rescue operation remains ongoing with teams working to create a safe path to reach people believed to be trapped in the hotel’s basement.
Lt. Col. Enrique Peña said authorities don't know if the trapped victims are alive or dead.
In a couple of Twitter posts, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel lamented what happened Friday, "all of the destruction, but above all the loss of life, and also the injured people."
"But once again I want to highlight the speed with which the population and the institutions were mobilized," Díaz-Canel said in Spanish. "My greatest recognition to the rescuers and rescue forces that have not rested in the search for survivors and in the essential work of removing debris from the #HotelSaratoga and its surroundings."
According to Havana Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata, the structures adjacent to the hotel were being evaluated, including two badly damaged apartment buildings.
Díaz-Canel added that families in affected buildings had been transferred to safer locations.
The Hotel Saratoga had a stunning view of Cuba’s center, including the domed Capitol building about 110 yards (100 meters) away. The Capitol suffered broken glass and damaged masonry from the explosion.
The emblematic hotel is on the prohibited accommodations list for U.S. citizens, issued by the U.S. Department of State in 2020.
In the past, the Hotel Saratoga has been used by visiting VIPs and political figures, including high-ranking U.S. government delegations. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed there in 2013.