Explosion at hotel in Havana, Cuba, kills at least 8 people

( CBS )

A powerful explosion badly damaged a hotel in the Cuban capital on Friday and officials reported several people had died.

The blast at the Hotel Saratoga, a 19th century structure in Old Havana, apparently was due to a gas leak, according to the Twitter account of the office of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who went to the site.

It said at least eight people had been killed and that search and rescue efforts were underway for people possibly trapped.

A witness told the Reuters news agency smoke and flames were seen coming from the building. A photo from the scene showed what appeared to be at least one body with a white cloth over it, Reuters reported.

Photos published by government news media showed much of the hotel's outer wall blown away, exposing interior rooms, with clouds of dust billowing into the sky.

A school next door had been evacuated.

Police cordoned off the area as firefighters and ambulance crews worked inside.

Mayiee Pérez said she had rushed to the scene after receiving a call from her husband, Daniel Serra, who works at a foreign exchange shop inside the hotel. She said he told her, "I am fine, I am fine. They got us out," but had been unable to reach him since.

Yazira de la Caridad, mother of two, said the explosion shook her home a block from the hotel: "The whole building moved. I thought it was an earthquake," she said. "I've still got my heart in my hand."

The five-star, 96-room hotel in Old Havana has two bars, two restaurants and a rooftop pool, according to its website.

Reuters reported the hotel had been set for a post-pandemic reopening in four days, according to its Facebook page.

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