As many as 22 people, including a child, were killed on Friday, and dozens others were injured in a powerful explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital Havana. It is reported that the explosion was caused by a natural gas leak.

The accident happened in Havana’s 96-room Hotel Saratoga in the Old Havana neighbourhood of the city. Reports stated that there were no tourists among the deceased as the hotel was closed for renovations.

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Nearly 75 people are believed to have been injured, including 14 children, the Cuba government informed.

Speaking to news agency The Associated Press, President Díaz-Canel said families in buildings near the hotel were also affected by the explosion and had been transferred to safer locations. A search continues for people who may be trapped in the rubble of the 19th century structure.

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“We are still looking for a large group of people who may be under the rubble,” said Lt. Col. Noel Silva of the fire department.

Cuban state TV reported that the explosion was caused by a white tanker truck supplying natural gas to the hotel that was seen being removed from the site after the incident. However, it is not clear as to how the gas ignited.

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“It’s not a bomb or an attack. It is a tragic accident,” tweeted president Miguel Díaz-Canel, who visited the site, dismissing speculations.

Several shared videos on social media platforms showing massive clouds of smoke billowing into the air around the hotel. People on the street were seen staring in awe, while cars quickly sped away from the scene.

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Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and rescue workers toiled inside the wreckage about 100 metres from Cuba’s Capital building.

Meanwhile, a school building adjoining the hotel was evacuated immediately and at least 5 students were said to have suffered minor injuries.

The company said it was still investigating the cause of the blast.

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The explosion happened as Cuba’s government hosted the final day of a tourism convention in the iconic beach town of Varadero aimed at drawing investors. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was also scheduled to arrive in the city for a visit late on Saturday.

In the past, Hotel Saratoga has been used frequently by visiting VIPs and political figures, including high-ranking US government delegations. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stayed there during a 2013 visit to Cuba.

Cuba is currently struggling to revive its key tourism sector that was devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, while already battling the sanctions imposed by the former US President Donald Trump that have been kept in place by the Biden administration.

Tourism had started to revive somewhat early this year, but the war in Ukraine crimped a boom of Russian visitors, who accounted for almost a third of the tourists arriving in Cuba last year.