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Death toll from Havana luxury hotel explosion reaches at least 22

The death toll following an explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital has risen to at least 22 (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
The death toll following an explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital has risen to at least 22 (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

The death toll following an explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital has risen to at least 22.

Rescuers in Havana were searching rubble through the night to find more victims of the blast that also injured dozens at a property which once hosted dignitaries and celebrities including Beyonce and Jay-Z

A natural gas leak was the apparent cause of the incident at Havana’s 96-room Hotel Saratoga. The 19th-century structure in the city’s Old Havana neighbourhood did not have any guests at the time because it was undergoing renovations ahead of a planned reopening on Tuesday.

Relatives of missing people remained at the site late on Friday night as rescuers sifted through rubble, while others gathered at hospitals where the injured were being treated.

Ms Avellar was waiting for news of Odalys Barrera, a 57-year-old cashier who has worked at the hotel for five years. She is the godmother of Ms Barrera’s daughters and considers her like a sister.

Although no tourists were reported injured, the explosion is the latest blow to the country’s crucial tourism industry.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic kept tourists away from Cuba, the country was already struggling with the sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump and kept in place the Biden administration.

The sanctions limited visits by US tourists to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the US to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had started to revive somewhat early this year, but the war in Ukraine crimped a boom of Russian visitors, who accounted for almost a third of the tourists arriving in Cuba last year.

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