The Faces of the 45 Victims of the Gas Explosion in Havana’s Saratoga Hotel

The Saratoga hotel fatalities are more than a number. However, little is known of their personal stories. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2022 — On Thursday the rescue services found the body of the last person listed as missing since the explosion, last Friday, in the Saratoga Hotel, bringing the death toll to 45.

The fatalities are more than a number. However, little is known of their personal histories.

With the support of social networks and some calls to relatives and friends of the victims, 14ymedio has compiled data and photos to put faces to the figures. Starting with the statistics, it has been possible to determine that at least 23 were hotel workers, while the others were passing through the facilities, lived in neighboring buildings or were pedestrians who had the misfortune to pass in front of the hotel at the precise moment of the terrible explosion, attributed to poor handling in the transfer of liquefied gas from a truck to the Saratoga tank.

Five of the employees worked in the kitchens, three in the technical services, three in the gastronomy area, another three in the economic area. Two were at reception, another two in security, and two more on the board of directors. The last three were linked to the areas of accommodation, marketing and insurance.

The day the accident occurred, interviews were being held to hire new staff, with a view to the reopening of the hotel on Tuesday, May 10, hence the presence of several Human Resources employees and job candidates.

But who were the victims really? What did they like to do and who will miss them the most?

One of the deceased for whom more information is available is the only one who is not Cuban, the Spanish Cristina López-Cerón Ugarte, 29, whose ashes will arrive in her country this Thursday. The young woman, originally from Viveiro (Lugo), lived in As Pontes (A Coruña), where she was a bank employee. She lived with her boyfriend César Román Santalla, with whom she had traveled to Cuba and who is currently among the hospitalized. The explosion, according to what her mother told the Galician press, probably surprised them on their first walk around the island, where they planned to spend a week off after the hospitalization of a family member and the previous admission of another.

Among the particularly painful cases are the deaths of Erick Girón Molina, 35, and his partner Vianka Yaniel Matos, a 40-year-old from Havana. He worked at the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara nickel factory as a machine operator at the Calcination and Sinter plant, and although there is not much information, it is foreseeable that they found themselves in the surroundings by chance, since her daughter, María Alejandra, 11 years old, is one of the hospitalized minors. Both were buried in Moa.

Another family involved in the incident is José Carlos Chapman Serrano, a 36-year-old from Holguín and a welder, who was with his son, Jonef José Chapman Izquierdo, 10 years old, who also died in the explosion.

A lot of information has also come out about one of the Saratoga receptionists, Juan Carlos Haza Martínez, a 50-year-old from Havana. A full member of the Masonic lodge Hijos de la Viuda, which has deeply lamented the loss, Haza was a graduate of the Special Troops and held positions both in the brigade’s exploration platoon and in the intelligence section. After that, he held different positions in tourism facilities in the capital, including the Parque Central hotel and the Panorama, before joining the Saratoga.

Two of the fatalities, as expected, were the drivers of the gas pipe involved in the explosion. Orlando Vargas Bring, known among his relatives as Landy, was 58 years old and lived in the Havana municipality of La Lisa. The other is Julián Pupo Castellano, who at 34 years old leaves three children, according to his partner, Yanet Sánchez, and his brother-in-law and great friend Jesús Manuel Sánchez. “We will never forget you, I swear that your name will never be forgotten,” the latter wrote on his social networks.

Another hotel employee was Ramón Toribio Señor Vergara, known as Mochi, 65 years old and also from Havana. “He was one of the first fatalities of the accident that occurred at the Saratoga Hotel. Husband, father and friends of all,” lamented Nelson Valdés, through Facebook. “A great person, very cheerful and cordial. Charming,” said Linnet Astencio, who stated that they were co-workers in the same establishment.

Juan Fraginals Martín, 30 years old, worked as a cook. He was from Havana and was planning to get married soon and was repairing the house that he would live in with his wife, according to his friends. Before finding his body, Prince of Peace Church had asked its congregation to pray for him to be found safe.

Also working in the kitchens of the Saratoga was Rafael Viga Torres, 50, who had studied at the School of Hospitality and Tourism at the Hotel Sevilla, in Old Havana. His friends used to say, half seriously, half jokingly, that he was the best cook in Cuba. He had at least one adult son, also Rafael, who has received hundreds of messages of condolences in the midst of a silence only broken by his new profile picture on Facebook, an image hugging his father.

Noy Guzmán Suárez is the third kitchen worker who died in the incident. Originally from Cerro, in Havana, and 44 years old, he studied at Ignacio Agramonte. Very fond of football and the FC Barcelona team, his colleagues refer to him as “the joy of the kitchen.”

The fourth cook is the last fatal victim rescued, and identified this Thursday, Yosmany Hernández Temo.

Just a year ago, Felicia Simón Maure was seen in a photo on her social networks in a beautiful yellow dress, smiling along with a phrase: “I am a woman who is happy with life.” She is 57 years old and originally from Havana, she worked in the human resources area of ​​the hotel.

The residents of number 609, adjacent to the hotel, were unlucky. Juan Carlos Díaz Álvarez, 55, was a delegate from the Popular Power constituency and his home collapsed in the explosion. His dog Chuza was pulled from under the rubble, still alive, days after the collapse. In the collapse of 15 of the building’s 27 apartments, María Consuelo Alard Valdés, 77, also died; she lived with her dog Sultan de Ella, who was found alive. Although her granddaughter did not move from the park in front of the hotel hoping she would be found alive, it was not to be.

Ernesto Cárdenas Gómez, 33, a native of Havana, was at the Saratoga occasionally, inspecting a carpentry project that was underway in the lobbyHe worked only part-time as part of the Ensamble cooperative, of the Fund for Cultural Assets, and wore overalls. He had studied in the 2017-2018 academic year at the San Gerónimo University College in Havana, which opened a book of condolences in his name.

Also belonging to the ensemble was Daniel Cruz Cárdenas, 25 years old, a native of Havana, who at the time of the explosion was working on the ground floor of the hotel.

Although the accounting offices were on the first floor of the hotel, on the day of the explosion Claudia Castellanos Antuch, who worked in that department, was in the basement with two other colleagues. The young woman, 30, had grown up in the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora and she had a four-year-old daughter. The father of the child, a resident outside the island, wrote some emotional words when Castellanos’ body was identified: “May we find comfort and strength in our daughter’s smile to pass this terrible ordeal that life put us through.”

Luciana Sierra Garro, 54, was from Havana and worked in the hotel’s Human Resources department. She had previously had a job as an administrator at the José Lezama Lima bookstore and later as a commercial inspector. She had also worked at the Bartolomé Masó school, the Provincial Book Center and at the Provincial Housing offices.

Yenisleidy Morales Armenteros, 34, also from Havana, worked three blocks from the place. Her family began to inquire about her whereabouts after the explosion, losing telephone contact with her. Apparently the woman is one of the passers-by who was hit by the fragments of the facade that flew in various directions.

María Isabel Bullain Montes de Oca was called “Mari” by her friends and was 29 years old. She graduated in 2017 from the Faculty of Tourism of Havana, she worked in the establishment. She was an only child and two days before the explosion she was seen posing for a photo with beautiful blue earrings made by the Omi project, a women’s sewing, knitting and accessories startup.

Misael Sánchez Mantilla, 48 years old, a native of Havana, worked in supplies at the Saratoga Hotel. He was passionate about Cuban history and belonged to the Guerra de Cuba group on Facebook that deals with historical issues. His son is a medical student and he thanked all those who had expressed their solidarity and interest after the accident, in the area of ​​the rescue operation where he was at all times.

The body of Yassel Díaz Vázquez, 38, a hotel employee, was found under the rubble three days after the explosion. His sister, Thalía López, after learning of the confirmation of his death, wrote on Facebook: “What injustice, so much negligence.” Several of his friends shared a message in which they demanded “all kinds of explanations, compensation, justice. What they do with one more hotel matters little to the soul of the city.”

Odalys Barrera González, a 57-year-old from Havana, has been honored on social networks by numerous colleagues who worked with her at the state-owned car rental company Transgaviota and have remembered her as a great mother and daughter. “She was a very happy person and always attentive to everyone,” lamented one of her friends. She was a current employee of the Saratoga.

Mélanie Laura Mosqueda Chacón, 17, also from Havana, was with her best friend, Lorena Mas Llorente, who is currently hospitalized, when the explosion occurred. She was studying at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Girón in the municipality of Playa.

Luisa Guilbeau Arrastia, 39 years old, from Havana, had a 10-year-old girl and worked at the Morro Cabaña Military Historical Park; her colleagues expressed their mourning for her with great affection. “She was distinguished by her cheerful and jovial character. Her co-workers, immersed in deep sadness, wish to convey to her family and friends their deepest condolences.” Her former mother-in-law has publicly joined that pain and has asked that, from wherever she is, she guide the steps of her granddaughter.

Leaney Sencio Hecheverría, a hotel worker, was 47 years old. Her friends called her Lea or Muchy and those who lived outside the Island made every effort to spread her image during the long days that she was missing.

María del Pilar Monzón González, 56, from Havana, had recently worked at the Saratoga. She had previously been a specialist in charge of the Quality Management process at the Empresa Viajero de Centro Habana. Her workmates, who called her Mary Pili, have sent more than 3,000 messages of support to her children and grandchildren.

Natyelis de la Caridad Brito Ibarzabal was barely 15 years old, studying in the municipality of Cerro, Havana. Her mother, Carmen, works at the Ministry of Internal Trade and her brother published several photos hugging Natyelis, some images that provoked more than a hundred comments, from friends, neighbors and relatives stunned by her early departure.

Manuel Eugenio Linares Sosa, 38, was known as Manolito on the block where he grew up, although friends called him Manu. He lived in the Bahía district, in the eastern part of Havana, and was a computer scientist by training.

Adriana Josué Díaz, 52, worked at the Saratoga as a security employee after having passed through the Ambos Mundos hotel. She had a daughter, Yanelis Yon Josué.

Milton Lorenzo Ventura Narbona, hotel worker, 67 years old, a native of Havana. He studied at the Marianao Manolito Aguiar high school and at the Ciudad Libertad facilities where his classmates remember him as an excellent student, a condition that also led him to study in the Soviet Union. He was head of Maintenance at the Kohly Hotel. He was among the first bodies identified after the explosion.

Alexis Lufriu Herrera worked in Security at the hotel and was there as an employee of the Cuban company of Specialized Protection Services SA (SEPSA). His friends from high school and work colleagues called him “El Lufri”. His specialty was monitoring through closed-circuit cameras and, before the Saratoga, he had worked in other hotels such as the Atlántico on the eastern beaches of Havana and in Villa Los Pinos. He was born on November 19, 49 years ago.

Luillys Oquendo Díaz had very bad luck, who was starting a job just the day of the explosion. “He was happy, because he started working as a cook that day, and nothing less than at the Saratoga Hotel! Everyone in the family desperately awaits news, because at his young age, 34 years old, Luillys has two children who want to hug him with intensity,” said one of his acquaintances when they were still looking for him alive.

Image posted by Maylín Quesada of the May Day parade with her colleagues from the Hotel Saratoga. (MQV)

Maylin Quesada Velazco had not yet turned 31 years old. On May 1, she paraded in the Plaza de la Revolución with her colleagues from the hotel carrying a Saratoga flag, where she worked on the financial side. Ella’s brother Jorge, who lives in Santos Suárez, will take care of her niece Ainoa, the daughter Maylin leaves behind and whom he wants to adopt. The young woman has been buried in the Colón cemetery, next to her father Jorge Emilio.

It has been impossible to find out details about the lives of four Havanans: José Salvador Mesa Sánchez and Juan Antonio Alfonso Delgado , both 77 years old; Dayanaisi Valdés Figueroa, 28, and Chanel Stephanie Hernández Díaz, only 15.

However, we know that Aivis Chang Cruz, 44 years old and a resident of Centro Habana, was called “La China” and worked in the once-luxurious Anacaona restaurant. Also, that she left a little girl orphaned.

Alexis Armando Velázquez Martiatu, 53, from Havana, worked at the General Security and Protection Agency.

Susel Torres García was identified this Wednesday: she was 50 years old and was a hotel waitress. Another waitress, Shady Cobas Mesa, was the last victim found, this Thursday.

Finally, Julio Jesús Trujillo Navarro, 19, was employed in the hotel renovation works, which were about to end before this Tuesday, for the reopening that could never be.


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