At least 26 dead following explosion at Cuban luxury hotel

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Relatives of the missing in Cuba’s capital desperately searched on Saturday for victims of an explosion at one of Havana’s most luxurious hotels that killed at least 26 people. They checked the morgue, hospitals and, if unsuccessful, returned to the partially collapsed Hotel Saratoga, where rescuers used dogs to hunt for survivors.

A natural gas leak was the apparent cause of Friday’s blast 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 Tuesday reopening after being closed.

Havana city officials raised the death toll to 26 on Saturday, according to the official Cubadebate news site. The dead included four children and a pregnant woman. Spanish President Pedro Sanchez said via Twitter that a Spanish tourist was among the dead and that another Spaniard was seriously injured. Cuban authorities had not provided details on the tourist’s death.

Search-and-rescue teams worked through the night and into Saturday, using ladders to descend through the rubble and twisted metal into the hotel’s basement as heavy machinery gingerly moved away piles of the building’s facade to allow access.

Above, chunks of drywall dangled from wires, and desks sat seemingly undisturbed inches from the void where the front of the building cleaved away.

At least one survivor was found early Saturday in the shattered ruins of the hotel, and rescuers using search dogs clambered over huge chunks of concrete looking for more. Relatives of missing people remained at the site overnight, while others gathered at hospitals where the injured were being treated.

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