HAVANA — As rescue brigades arrived rapidly at the scene of a deadly gas explosion at the Hotel Saratoga, dozens of local residents had already joined in aiding and evacuating others to safety amid the billowing smoke and dust.
Forty-two people were confirmed dead and at least 94 injured as of May 10, as emergency workers continued to comb through the rubble for others believed missing. The May 6 blast rocked Central Havana, destroying parts of the hotel and damaging nearby structures, including an elementary school, apartment buildings, a Baptist church and a theater.
The terrible accident was likely caused by a natural gas leak, as a tank truck was servicing the building. It blew the outer walls into the busy streets, according to the office of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. The hotel was closed at the time of the explosion for renovation and was scheduled to reopen after being shuttered for two years during the COVID pandemic. At least 51 workers were inside when the blast occurred.
Next to the hotel, at the Concepción Arenal Primary School, “teachers and workers came out holding groups of three or four students by the hand,” as rescue workers guided them toward the Capitol building across the street, wrote Jorge Sariol in an article posted to the website of Casa Editora Abril, the publishing house of the Union of Young Communists of Cuba. Workers at Abril, whose offices are just two blocks from the Saratoga, also helped evacuate the children, who were rapidly reunited with their families. The publisher’s ground-floor bookstore was opened to assist in the rescue efforts.
‘We always act in solidarity’
“Our people always act in solidarity with others around the world, so it’s only natural that we would do the same toward ourselves,” said Gerardo Hernández, national coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), pointing to the outpouring of support from working people across the island for victims of the disaster.
Led by the CDRs and other mass organizations, such as the Federation of University Students and Federation of Cuban Women, some 2,000 people made blood donations within 24 hours of the accident. “Once word got out in workplaces, among neighbors, people started to come to the provincial blood bank,” said Hernández. “And they’re bringing other donations without us even asking.”
Cuba’s revolutionary government immediately went into action at all levels, from the Ministry of Public Health to local housing authorities, to help save lives, coordinate emergency services, and provide accurate information on the unfolding rescue operation.
This response by working people and their government is not exceptional. As part of the moral foundations of Cuba’s socialist revolution, millions of workers, farmers and others are trained and mobilized when hurricanes and other natural disasters hit, to organize mass evacuations, minimize the loss of human life and repair damaged homes. Unlike in the U.S. and other capitalist countries, no one is left to fend for themselves. That preparedness and spirit of solidarity shifted into high gear within minutes of the Saratoga explosion.
Because of Washington’s economic war against the Cuban Revolution and the impact of the worldwide capitalist crisis, the country faces scarcity of medical supplies, fuel and other resources. Despite those limitations, the basic needs of people affected by the explosion are being given priority.
Those evacuated from damaged residential buildings are being housed in the Villa Panamericana hotel complex in East Havana, or are staying with relatives or friends. Students from the damaged school have received new school uniforms, notebooks and pencils to replace lost supplies. The school is expected to reopen by the end of May.