Oroville Mercury-Register

Havana hotel death toll at 30 as dogs search for any survivors

- By Andrea Rodríguez

Search crews with dogs on Sunday hunted through the ruins of a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital for survivors of a devastatin­g explosion while officials raised the number of known dead to 30.

The Hotel Saratoga, a five-star 96-room hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited, blowing the outer walls into the busy, midmorning streets just a block from the country’s Capitol building on Friday.

Cuban officials on Sunday raised the known death toll to 30 from 27 even as crews continued to search for victims buried beneath piles of shattered concrete. Several nearby structures also were damaged, including the historic Marti Theater and the Calvary Baptist Church, headquarte­rs for the denominati­on in western Cuba.

The church said on its Facebook page that the building suffered “significan­t structural damage, with several collapsed or cracked walls and columns (and) the ceiling partially collapsed,” though no church workers were hurt.

The Health Ministry said 84 people had been injured in Friday’s explosion. The dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured.

The ministry on Sunday also released the names of those who died. Some 24 people remained hospitaliz­ed.

On Saturday, a representa­tive of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA, which owns the hotel, said 13 of its workers remained missing. Gov. Reinaldo García Zapata said Saturday evening that 19 families had reported loved ones missing and that rescue efforts would continue.

Authoritie­s said the cause of the explosion was still under investigat­ion, but believed it to have been caused by a gas leak. A large crane hoisted a charred gas tanker out of the rubble Saturday.

Burials for victims have begun, according to municipal authoritie­s. But some were still waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.

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