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Havana hotel death toll at 31 as search for survivors continues

HAVANA (AP) – The death toll of a powerful explosion at a luxury hotel in Cuba’s capital increased to 31 on Sunday evening as search crews with dogs hunted through the rubble of the iconic, 19th Century building looking for people still missing.

The Hotel Saratoga, a five-star 96-room hotel in Old Havana, was preparing to re-open after being closed for two years when an apparent gas leak ignited, blowing the outer walls into the busy, mid-morning streets just a block from the country’s Capitol building on Friday.

Several nearby structures also were damaged, including the historic Marti Theater and the Calvary Baptist Church, headquarters for the denomination in western Cuba.

The church said on its Facebook page that the building suffered “significant structural damage, with several collapsed or cracked walls and columns (and) the ceiling partially collapsed”, though no church workers were hurt.

In releasing the names of those who were killed, the Health Ministry said the dead included four minors, a pregnant woman and a Spanish tourist, whose companion was seriously injured.

A member of the Havana rescue team carries a stretcher to transport the body of a deceased person. PHOTO: AP