Death toll from luxury hotel explosion in Havana reaches at least 22

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The death toll in an explosion at a luxury hotel in the Cuban capital stands at least 22.

Havana rescuers searched the rubble overnight for other victims of the blast which also injured dozens at a property that once housed dignitaries and celebrities including Beyonce and Jay-Z.

A natural gas leak was the apparent cause of the incident at the 96-room Saratoga Hotel in Havana. The 19th-century structure in the city’s Old Havana neighborhood had no guests at the time because it was undergoing renovations ahead of a scheduled reopening on Tuesday.

Relatives of missing people remained at the scene late Friday night as rescuers searched the rubble, while others gathered at hospitals where the injured were being treated.

Ms Avellar was waiting to hear from Odalys Barrera, a 57-year-old cashier who has worked at the hotel for five years. She is godmother to Mrs. Barrera’s daughters and considers her a sister.

Although no tourists were injured, the blast is the latest blow to the country’s crucial tourism industry.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic drove tourists away from Cuba, the country was already grappling with sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump and maintained by the Biden administration.

The sanctions have limited visits by American tourists to the islands and restricted remittances from Cubans in the United States to their families in Cuba.

Tourism had started to pick up a little early this year, but the war in Ukraine has served a boom in Russian visitors, who made up nearly a third of tourists who arrived in Cuba last year. – Associated press

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