Rescue workers scoured for survivors after a large explosion rocked an upscale hotel in downtown Havana on Friday, killing at least eight people, Cuban officials said.
Bystanders fled the scene as police and rescue workers combed through the rubble of the Hotel Saratoga, a five-star hotel located in the historic center of Havana. The 19th century hotel is located just across the street from Cuba’s Capitol building and frequents high-profile guests.
A preliminary investigation indicated the explosion was caused by a gas leak, according to a stream of updates posted on President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s Twitter account. Díaz-Canel arrived at the scene shortly after the explosion, video shared on social media shows.
Updates posted by the president indicate Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, the first secretary of the Party in Havana, said at least 13 people are still missing and might be trapped. Video on social media showed crowds flocking to the rubble with their cell phones out and workers picking up large blocks, looking for any trace of those missing.
Nearby clinics were treating injured people and several ambulances have arrived on scene, Cudadebate reported. A school next door had been evacuated.
Photos published by Cuban news ACN and Granma, the Cuban communist party’s newspaper, showed severe damage to the hotel’s walls and clouds of smoke billowing into the sky.
Buses and cars outside the hotel were also destroyed and witnesses said a “massive blast” had occurred, CNN reported.
Yazira de la Caridad, mother of two, said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel: “The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “I’ve still got my heart in my hand.”
Mayiee Pérez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, “I am fine, I am fine. They got us out,” but had been unable to reach him since.
The 96-room hotel has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.
Contributing: The Associated Press