At least 18 people have been reported dead and over 60 injured following an explosion at Havana's Saratoga Hotel Friday. However, authorities did not rule out that the number of casualties could increase later in the day.
Among those dead were a child and a pregnant woman, it was reported. Cuban presidency sources also posted on Twitter that 64 people have been injured, with 18 adults and three children in critical condition.
Tourism Minister Juan Carlos García Granda said there were no foreigners among the injured. No further details have been released about the deceased.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who visited the scene of the accident, stressed that it was an unfortunate accident and ruled out it was a bomb or an attack. The event occurred minutes before 11 a.m. local time (15 GMT) when a liquefied gas tanker was filling a tank at the hotel. The most likely thesis is that the explosion was due to a leak.
The explosion caused a section of the seven-story building to collapse and the façade of the first three floors to detach, causing tons of debris to fall onto the sidewalk. The tanker truck was partially buried. The explosion caused a large plume of white smoke, which was visible throughout much of the capital.
First-responder crews rushed to the scene and transported those affected to several nearby hospitals. A nearby school was evacuated.
A team of specialists then began to canvass the area in search of possible victims trapped in the building, a task that continued into the night.
At the same time, the damaged tanker, which still had highly flammable liquefied gas inside, was removed through a crane and placed on a large truck for transport.
Authorities also explained that a technical inspection of the building will have to determine whether it can be restored or if the structural damage will lead to its demolition.
The five-star Saratoga was built in 1880 and has been operating as a hotel since 1911. Its last restoration took place in 2005, according to official media. The establishment is located in Paseo del Prado, one of the main avenues of Old Havana, in the historic center of the Cuban capital, just a few steps from the National Capitol, in an area with a large stable population and a tourist site.