The death toll at a Havana hotel where dogs are searching for survivors has risen to 31

HAVANA (AP) – The death toll from a powerful explosion at a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital has risen to 31 on Sunday evening as search teams with dogs search for those still missing after being hunted down in the rubble of a 19th-century iconic building.

Saradoka, a five-star 96-room hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to reopen after two years of closure when an obvious gas leak ignited and slammed the exterior walls of a busy, midnight street in a block from the country’s capital. Friday Building.

Several nearby structures were damaged, including the historic Mardi Theater and the headquarters of the Calvary Baptist Church in western Cuba. The church said on its Facebook page that the building “suffered significant structural damage, with many collapsed or cracked walls and columns (and) part of the roof collapsing”, although none of the church staff were injured.

The health ministry, which released the names of those killed, said the dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, and that his accomplice had been seriously injured.

The ministry said 54 people were injured and 24 were hospitalized. It previously reported 85 people were injured, but that number also includes those killed in the blast.

Nineteen families had complained that people were missing until Saturday evening, but officials did not say Sunday whether the number had changed.

Authorities say the cause of the explosion at the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota SA-owned hotel is still under investigation, but it is believed to have been caused by a gas leak. A large crane lifted a burning gas tanker from the rubble Saturday.

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Graves for the victims have begun, municipal officials said, while some were waiting for news of missing friends and relatives.

“We hope to know something about my cousin’s mother,” Angela Acosta told the Associated Press near the scene of the blast. His cousin, Maria de la Concepcion Alert, lived with a black Labrador in an apartment adjacent to the hotel that was rescued with another dog Sunday.

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The team is busy clearing the streets around the hotel and by Saturday afternoon, significant pedestrian traffic had resumed.

On Mother’s Day in Cuba on Sunday, Mata Verde, who was walking near Saratoga, said, “There are mothers without children.” He tells women who lost their sons or daughters in the bombings that they “must go on”.

The eruption added to the woes of a key tourism sector plagued by the corona virus epidemic and the severe sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and the Biden administration in place. Limited visits by U.S. tourists to the islands and remittances from Cuba in the United States to their families in Cuba were restricted.

Tourism began to revive somewhat earlier this year, but the war in Ukraine slowed the influx of Russian visitors, who accounted for nearly a third of the number of tourists visiting Cuba last year.

Covered by the plague, Saratoga is one of the elite lodges in Havana, frequented by VIPs and celebrities. Its owner is one of the businesses of the Cuban Army.

Some attention began to shift in Cuba to the official visit of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lபpez Obrador, who arrived Saturday night at the end of a five-nation tour that began in Central America.

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Lopez Obrador met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Colonel on Sunday, who awarded him the Order of Jose Marti “for his outstanding achievements for humanity.” This is the most important award that a country can give to a foreigner.

The Diaz-Colonel’s office tweeted that Lopez O’Brien had told US President Joe Biden not to exclude Cuba from the US summit in Los Angeles in June.

Lopez Obrador said the purpose of the trip included signing agreements on trade, health, education and cooperation with the island, while he reaffirmed his foreign policy stance.

“We are not in favor of domination,” he said. “Let us not exclude anyone because we are independent nations, sovereign nations, and no one can stand above the rights of the people and nations.”

Diaz-Colonel visited during Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations last year. Lopez Obrador recently spoke out against the US government’s intention to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the upcoming summit.

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