Cuba decrees a day of official mourning for the 45 people killed in hotel explosion

·3 min read
Ramon Espinosa/AP

The Cuban government decreed one day of official mourning starting Friday morning after search and rescue efforts at the site of a powerful explosion in the Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana ended, bringing the death toll to 45.

Cuban authorities said firefighters recovered from the rubble the body of a waitress, the last person missing believed to have been in the hotel at the time of the blast the morning of May 6.

“I have decreed official mourning for the victims of the accident at the Hotel Saratoga,” Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel said on Twitter in a message thanking the rescuers and sending condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. “It is the sentiment shared at the conclusion of the search for the disappeared.”

Among the 45 dead there are four children, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist who was just passing by the hotel.

The disaster, which Cuban officials have attributed to a gas leak but continues to be under investigation, injured 99 people, including several hotel workers. Fifteen people remain hospitalized, and two children and four adults are in critical condition, the Ministry of Public Health said.

The explosion also left almost a hundred people living in buildings nearby without a home. Sixty-nine were offered temporary living arrangements, according to the head of the Communist Party in Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar. Cuban officials said the government plans to repair or build new homes for the families affected, but that sort of work usually takes several years on the island.

Unlike other countries, where responsibility for such accidents brings up the payment of large sums, the victims’ families are unlikely to receive significant compensation. The country lacks an insurance system, and state firms such as Gaviota, the tourism company that owns the hotel and is run by the military, do not bear criminal or civil liabilities, according to Cuban law.

The blast also caused damage to Havana’s. Capitol building, the historic Marti Theater, a Baptist church, a primary school and other facilities.

The five-star hotel, located in one of the busiest spots in the Cuban capital, just steps away from the Capitol, was about to reopen this week after two years without tourists because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 19th-century building was reopened in 2005 as a luxury hotel. After initial expectations it could be restored after the blast, an official from Gaviota said at least 80 percent of the structure is damaged.

The Cuban government decreed official mourning a week after the deadly event. The wait drew criticism on social media, especially after Mexican media published details of a private dinner party hosted by Cuban leader Díaz-Canel at the Palace of the Revolution to entertain Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was visiting the island on Sunday.

A traditional music group played during the event, and a Mexican diplomat shared a photo of several Mexican officials with a smiling Díaz-Canel.

“It is beyond the lack of sensitivity and respect,” Ulises Toirac, a popular Cuban comedian, said on Facebook. “It is shameful.”