14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 16 February 2023 — The explosion of an electric motorcycle caused a fire in the early hours of this Thursday in the garage of the Hermanas Giralt Building, in El Vedado, Havana. The event occurred around one in the morning, according to local residents speaking to 14ymedio.
“Thanks to the fact that the firefighters came immediately it was put out, but it was scary to hear the screams. It felt like saying ’fire, fire, help, help!’” recounts a woman residing near the damaged property. Another young man commented, referring to the frequent accidents with this type of vehicle: “The motorcycles are tremendously dangerous, they are time bombs, wherever you put them, you are playing with people’s lives.”
The neighbors, who reported that the electricity was cut off during the early hours of the morning in the vicinity –including the Habana Libre hotel and the so-called Torre K – feared for the electricity cables and gas pipes, but apparently, they were not affected. There were also no injuries.
The Havana fire department itself published on its Facebook page images of its actions at the building, located in the heart of the once luxurious Calle 23, between D and E.
Around noon, agents from the Ministry of the Interior were still at the scene collecting evidence. The soot from the fire in the garage had reached part of the floor immediately above and the sign spelling out the name of the building, which has long been missing letters.
In fact, the building, visible with its 17 floors from many parts of Havana, has been falling apart for years, despite having been one of the most luxurious in the capital.
Construction started in 1958 onthe project by the architect Óscar Fernández Tauler – who was inspired by the clean style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Under the Vazarta Territorial company, construction ended in 1961, two years after the triumph of the Revolution, when, already in the hands of the National Institute of Savings and Housing, the building was baptized with the name of Hermanas [Sisters] Giralt*, a symbol of the fight against Batista.
Its spacious apartments and its view of the sea made it a privileged enclave, and various cultural and entertainment personalities resided in its homes. When private accommodations began to be allowed in Cuba in the mid-1990s, it was also a magnet for tourists.
However, the deterioration of the façade and the balconies has turned it into a danger, and there have been complaints from the residents themselves, who published on social networks, last October, that the previous May the repair of the property had begun property, although the post regretted the “interruptions due to lack of allocations of economic resources.”
“The only thing missing is that the Copextel SA Technical Management entity fulfills the legally established commitment in a contract to repair the deteriorated roof terrace and its perimeter wall, a place where they have facilities and work equipment,” the post denounced. “For a year now they have been failing to comply despite the alerts from the owners’ board, who are already considering going to a legal claim.”
*Translator’s note: The Giralt Sisters were famous for having been tortured and killed by the Batista regime. Currently, some of the units in the building are in use as luxury vacation rentals.
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