14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 May 2022 — Barely 24 hours after the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana, the area still looks like a battlefield and there are already 32 dead, 19 missing and 56 injured. A police cordon surrounds the area from the Parque de la Fraternidad to prevent pedestrians from passing through and the rescue brigades work against the clock to find survivors under the rubble.
The confusion of the first moments has been replaced by anguish. In the whole city there is no talk of anything else. In lines, at family tables and on urban buses, the theme is the explosion in a hotel that until a few days ago was a symbol of tourist glamor and has now become synonymous with tragedy.
Each one has a story to tell. Like that of the employee who left the building just a few minutes before the explosion and she was paralyzed when she felt the noise behind her back. Or the one of the woman who cries next to the yellow tape that says “PNR* Do Not Pass, Keep Out” because her godmother, 78 years old, and the old woman’s puppy are under the rubble.
There is also the young man who points to the building on one side of the hotel that suffered considerable damage in the explosion and fears that Juan Carlos, a neighbor on the second floor, has not given proof of life since yesterday morning. The testimonies are mixed and there is no shortage of those who reach the groups and, conveniently, release some rumor where the words “enemy” and “attack” are always present, although the official version has insisted that it was an accident.
State Security agents, dressed in civilian clothes, are also deployed throughout the area. They are detected by their incisive gaze with which they register everyone who takes photos or records the scene of a building with its beams exposed to the air, and the rescuers with their faces getting longer as the hours go by.
The independent reporter Ángel Cuza, who broadcast live from the Saratoga hotel what was happening after the explosion, was arrested by the political police along with the activist Pedro Quiala this Friday afternoon. Both were transferred to Villa Marista, a place known as the State Security headquarters in Havana. The Cuban Human Rights Observatory condemned the arrests as arbitrary. Cuza was also one of the activists who protested on Obispo Street on April 30, 2021.
In the elementary school near the Saratoga Hotel, which also suffered many damages, a side door has been set up so that parents can collect the backpacks and other belongings of their children who were evacuated after the explosion. Some have approached early but crossing the security cordon is tortuous and many fear that the structure of the Saratoga could collapse at any moment.
The concern has spread even among those who did not suffer direct damage but fear that the tremor has damaged the other buildings in the area, a neighborhood with numerous tenements packed with residents, many of which are in a deplorable architectural state. In the central street Monte, some have not even wanted to sleep at home.
María Julia, a 58-year-old from Havana, tells this newspaper that she decided to spend the night at her daughter’s house. “There was a tremendous noise and everything shook here, the paintings on the walls and even some glasses that I have in a display case,” she explains. “This house has a very bad roof and columns and now I am afraid that this shaking has made things worse.”
The feeling is that the explosion is pouring rain on the long list of calamities that have hit Cuba in recent years. “This is going to be a hard blow to tourism,” says Ismael, an employee of a state cafeteria on Obispo Street. “Now that it seemed that we were going to start attracting more visitors, this happens to us.”
This Saturday also coincided with the eve of Mother’s Day, a very popular date on the island. The hotel is located in a very commercial area where hundreds of anxious customers have come to try to buy products for the celebrations of this Sunday, where traditionally there is a family dinner and gifts are given to mothers.
However, together with the police cordon that prevents access to a wide area around the hotel, the shortage of products in local stores was setting the tone this morning. This newspaper was able to verify the long lines around several state stores on Reina, Galiano and Monte streets to try to buy food, drinks and some gifts.
*PNR = National Revolutionary Police
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