At least 18 people have been confirmed dead after an explosion rocked downtown Havana, Cuba Friday, hitting the popular Hotel Saratoga, according to local authorities.
The explosion at the upscale hotel was caused by a gas leak, preliminary investigations have found, the office of Cuba’s president said Friday.
Search and rescue efforts are underway at the hotel.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has been at the hotel assessing the damage, his office’s Twitter account said.
“It wasn’t a bomb or an attack, it’s an unfortunate accident,” Diaz-Canel said of the explosion.
More than 20 patients are receiving treatment at the Calixto García Hospital, the president's office said.
Witness footage shows the explosion appeared to tear the walls off of multiple floors of the hotel, which was set to reopen next Tuesday after an extended closure due to the pandemic, according to the hotel’s Facebook page. Some of the efforts to resupply the hotel could be the culprit of the damage, said Roberto Enrique Calzadilla, a spokesperson for the military-backed company that runs hotels in Cuba.
“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,” Calzadilla said in an interview, according to Reuters.
Other images captured on the scene show massive plumes of smoke billowing out around the hotel.
Crowds gathered around the hotel, which was surrounded with debris after the explosion. Multiple cars appeared to have been crushed by the collapse of parts of the building, according to witness images.
The hotel did not immediately return a request for comment.
Already, people in Cuba are rushing to donate blood, the president’s office said.
The neoclassical hotel was first built in 1879 and refurbished in 1915 and 1925. A British investment fund helped refurbished the hotel more recently.