14ymedio, Havana, June 28, 2023 — A family of seven, two of them children, died early this Wednesday morning following the explosion of two electric motorcycles in Central Havana. The fire occurred in a house of mixed construction, with a combined structure of wood and masonry, located at 159 Perseverancia Street, between Ánimas Street and Virtudes Street.
The official press has not yet revealed the names of the victims, but 14ymedio spoke with a neighbor, who recounted what happened and the family’s composition.
In the house, the matriarch, Magaly, about 50 years old, and her two children shared space. The man, about 20, also lived there with his girlfriend; and the daughter, approximately 30, was the mother of the two deceased children, ages 3 and 5. Finally, there was the young woman’s partner, presumably the owner of at least one of the burned motorbikes, located at the entrance to the living room of the house. The origin of the fire is still unknown, but according to witnesses it could have been due to the batteries exploding while being charged.
The fire departments of several municipalities in the capital – Old Havana, El Cerro, Plaza de la Revolución and Regla – came “immediately” to put out the fire, according to Cubadebate. “The police arrived in about 10 minutes and the firefighters did not take more than 20, that is, they did not arrive too late, but no one would have arrived in time, it was as if two bombs exploded,” explains the witness, who lives in the house. adjacent and whose wall was still hot around 10 in the morning, when 7 hours had passed since the accident.
The fire was “voracious,” as this neighbor described it. “So huge and so furious that there was no way to get those people out of there, because in their interior patio they had no communication with anyone, with anyone else’s interior hallway. They were simply cut off,” he lamented. Some neighbors desperately tried to force the door, but all in vain, as it was initially too hot and eventually burned completely.
In the absence of official information, the version circulating in the neighborhood is that the family died, most likely, from smoke inhalation, although the bodies were charred when emergency teams managed to enter.
On the positive side, a woman and her daughter, both adults, who lived right above, managed to escape the flames. In that area of Central Havana there are many homes of this type, in which a side staircase gives access to the upper floor. The two women managed to leave by crossing the balcony of the Paquito González primary school, which did not open its doors this Wednesday.
“The block was black with smoke, enormous smoke, you couldn’t get close because you couldn’t breathe,” the neighbor reviews. The sadness is evident in the young man, who knew the deceased boy, a few years younger than himself, from playing together in the neighborhood, all his life.
Photographs published by the official press show that, in addition to the construction, numerous objects in the house were damaged, including several bicycles parked next to the motorbikes.
The leaders of the Communist Party and the provincial government, alarmed by the seriousness of the incident, came to witness the scene. Ramón Pardo Guerra, the head of the National Civil Defense General Staff, also appeared.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed, in a brief tweet accompanied by photographs of the incident: “We regret the human losses in the fire. Our condolences to family and friends.”
The neighborhood where the house is located, known by the traditional name of San Leopoldo, is one of the most populated in the Cuban capital, with most of the houses built at the beginning of the last century, numerous tenements and a high degree of architectural deterioration, due to the lack of maintenance and the exposure to saltpeter, because of its proximity to the sea.
Electric motorcycle battery explosions are one of the most frequent causes of fires on the Island, although this is the most serious incident of that type. Last March, two men – one 45 years old and the other 48 – died in another explosion, also in Central Havana. Two more people – who tried to help those trapped in the building – were injured in the incident, while a third was discharged from the hospital immediately.
“Fires have been breaking out on mopeds or electric motorcycles since 2017. In 2019 there were 221 fires and as of October 2020 a total of 485 were reported,” state television reporter more than two years ago.
The situation has not improved over time. In September 2022, two people were seriously injured in a house fire in Luyanó, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre.
In June 2022, the explosion of another motorbike when it was being charged caused a fire in the municipality of Cerro that destroyed another 12 vehicles of that type and two cars.
Translated by Eric Peliza and others
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