14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2022 — A ferocious explosion followed by a column of black smoke (seen in great detail in 14ymedio’s coverage) shocked the residents of Old Havana on 6 May at 10:50 in the morning. People’s worst fears were confirmed a few minutes later: the luxury hotel Saratoga, whose reopening was planned for just a few days later, had partially collapsed, taking with it the lives of dozens of people.
Among the victims, the number of which would end up totalling 47, were 23 employees of the hotel who were preparing for the reopening, but also residents of the area and pedestrians who had the misfortune of walking past at that moment — including two children and a Spanish woman who had only just arrived on a visit to the Island with her partner.
The incident (which the authorities promised to investigate but so far little or nothing of that has transpired) was apparently caused by inadequate handling of the transfer of liquid gas from a truck to the hotel’s storage tank.
The government was profuse in pushing the official line in its press about the rescue work, which lasted for several days until all the bodies were recovered and the names of those not found released. However, they never published any detailed record showing pictures of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
This newspaper undertook an exhaustive gathering of all the information put out on social media by friends and family members of the victims so that finally we were able to bring together data on the majority of them: who they were, what were they like, what they did, what were their ambitions, who grieved for them. Our intensive work was recognised by the many readers who turned to us for our reporting on this story — the most read in 14ymedio of 2022.
Damage was also caused, in the explosion, beyond the hotel itself — built in 1880 and considered one of the most luxurious in the capital until in 2016 when the military took control of it — to a Baptist church, a school, the Martí Theatre and a number of other neighbouring buildings, a number of which remain beyond repair.
To add to this tragedy, which cost the lives of so many people this year, it is awful to have to add the shameful fact that in October it was revealed that Adel de la Torre Hernández, one of the emergency responders who took part in the evacuation, was sentenced to seven years in jail for having participated in the 11 July 2021 protests.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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