A Spanish tourist was killed in an explosion recorded this Friday in a very large explosion at a luxury hotel in the center of Havana, and another tourist of the same nationality was seriously injured, Foreign Ministry sources assured Efe.
The death toll so far stands at 22, and about 74 injured, some of them very serious. The event took place a few minutes before 17:00 Spanish time, when a tanker truck brought liquefied gas to the Saratoga hotel.
Inside the hotel was only a team of employees who were working on setting up the facility for its reopening on May 10 after a two-year closure due to the pandemic.
The official media cited a gas leak as the most likely cause of the explosion in a building located in the city center and a few meters from the Capitol.
More than a dozen victims were buried as a result of the collapse of a large part of an imposing structure in the middle of the Prado promenade in Havana. The work of rescuing them was difficult.
A technical survey of the building will need to be carried out in the next few days to decide if it can be restored or if the structural damage justifies its demolition.
Madonna and Beyoncé stayed there
The Saratoga was housed in a neoclassical building built in 1880 and has been operating as a hotel since 1911. After a major renovation, it was reopened in 2005.
One of the most luxurious in the Cuban capital, Saratoga’s clients included American artists Beyoncé and Madonna, German tailor Karl Lagerfeld and British lead singer Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
The hotel was located in the heart of the historical part of Old Havana, next to the Capitol, one of the country’s main tourist attractions.
Impact on tourism
The event comes as the island’s tourism sector is trying to restart after a two-year forced hiatus due to the pandemic, which has exacerbated the country’s economic hardship.
Tourism is the second largest sector of the Cuban Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with a 10% contribution in 2019 and the second source of foreign exchange earnings.
Cuba welcomed over 450,000 tourists between January and April and hopes to reach 2.5 million foreign visitors for the year as a whole. The figure is significantly higher than the previous year, but still far from the pre-pandemic volume.
After this event, the governments of America and Europe mainly sent a message of condolence to Cuba and showed their solidarity with the Caribbean country.
What was the Saratoga Hotel like?
Considered one of the most luxurious in the city, this 5-star hotel was built for the purpose of welcoming foreign tourists during the reign of General Tacon between 1834 and 1838, mostly North Americans and some businessmen who were keen to set up their business in the city zone. It was built by the Spanish merchant Gregorio Palacios, one of the richest city owners in Havana, and by 1935 was listed in tourist guides as one of the most important and luxurious hotels of that time. The building has undergone great changes, such as what happened during the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), during which it was severely damaged. Restoration work began in 2001 and was completed in 2005. Located on the Paseo del Prado, a few meters from the Capitol, the area in which it is located is one of the liveliest places in the country. The hotel was preparing to reopen on May 10 after a two-year closure due to the pandemic.
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