Death toll rises to 35 in luxury hotel explosion in Cuba

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Four other bodies were found during the ongoing search and rescue operation at the scene of an explosion that killed at least 35 people and destroyed much of the luxurious Saratoga Hotel in Havana on Friday, it was announced on Monday Cuban officials.

The Ministry of Public Health published its latest figures around noon Monday, reporting 35 dead and 20 others, including five children, still under medical care in hospitals in Havana. Four adults and three children are in critical condition. The ministry said it identified 34 of the 35 dead. Four children and a pregnant woman were among the dead.

Fire chief Luis Guzmán said the four bodies were recovered from Sunday evening to Monday morning, according to state media Cubadebate. A local Communist Party official said they were all hotel workers.

State media also reported that a dozen people are missing.

Fifty-one workers were reportedly present inside the building at the time of the blast around 11 a.m. Friday. The explosion destroyed the facade of the hotel, demolished walls on several floors and caused extensive damage to a nearby residential building, leaving a large void at the junction of the two structures.

More than 20 buildings, including the historic Teatro Martí, a Baptist church and an elementary school, were also damaged. Most were multi-family residential buildings.

The fire chief said the search and rescue team was still trying to find people trapped in the rubble, but the operation was being slowed by the risk of the building collapsing.

The five-star Saratoga hotel was preparing to reopen for international tourists this week after two years of closure due to the pandemic when the explosion derailed plans and created chaos at a central hub in Havana.

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel said the explosion was an accident that could be linked to a gas leak.

Hotel Saratoga, a restored 19th century building with 96 rooms, is owned and operated by Gaviota SA, a tourism company under the military conglomerate known as GAESA. Both entities are under US sanctions.

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