Thousands of Cubans attend the vigil for the victims of the Saratoga Hotel

Several thousand people gathered this Friday at a vigil in Havana in memory of the victims of the Saratoga hotel explosion, which caused 46 deaths and almost a hundred wounded.

The concentration in the Parque de la Fraternidad, in front of the remains of the damaged hotel, started at 7:00 p.m. local time (1:00 GMT, on Saturday) and is scheduled to last 24 hours.

Relatives of the deceased, seated in the front row, approached a small stage between tears and signs of pain to deposit flowers and lighted candles in front of the portraits of the dead.

At nine o’clock in the evening, a minute of silence was held for all the victims.

The act, broadcast live on several Cuban state television channels, was led by the country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and other high authorities. Representatives of the fire department, public health teams, other institutions and employees of the damaged hotel were also invited.

"We join our young people in tonight’s vigil for the victims of #HotelSaratoga. Lights and a minute of silence for them to be #AlwaysWithUs. Just as the flag looks at half-staff, there is the pain in the chest of good people"expressed the Cuban president about the posthumous tribute on Twitter.

The initiative, promoted by the Union of Young Communists (UJC), the youth of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only legal one), is the main act of homage to those affected by the tragedy during the two days of official mourning decreed by the Presidency.

Hundreds of people line up to participate in the tribute and accompany the relatives of the deceased who were visibly affected in their pain.

The vigil was followed from other provinces of the island through television broadcasts and on social networks, Internet users sent messages with expressions such as "Rest in peace" Y "they will always be with us".

This act had a replica in the eastern city of Holguín, where a vigil was also held to remember those who died in the fateful accident.

This Thursday, a mass in honor of the deceased took place in the cathedral of the Cuban capital, offered by the workers of the tourist facility, one of the groups most affected by the tragedy.

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As of this morning, the two days of official mourning decreed by President Díaz-Canel are in force.

The event occurred last Friday morning, apparently due to an escape when a tanker truck was recharging a liquid gas tank at the hotel.

The establishment had been closed for two years due to the pandemic, but 51 workers were inside at the time of the explosion. They were adapting the hotel for its reopening, scheduled for this Tuesday, May 10.

According to the latest part of the Ministry of Public Health (Minsap), 46 people died in the accident and almost a hundred were injured in total. Considerable material damage was also recorded.

In addition to the hotel, at least 17 buildings were damaged, including the hundred-year-old Martí theater, opened in 1884, and a Baptist church. Several blocks of flats have been evicted.

In the next few days, now that the rescue work has been completed, a technical analysis of the buildings will be carried out to decide which can be restored and which should be demolished.

The Saratoga was built in 1880 and from 1911 it functioned as a hotel. Its last restoration took place in 2005, when the building was extensively renovated.

With five stars, the luxurious six-story hotel was considered an icon of the restored historic center of the city, part of one of its great tourist attractions. Entertainment stars such as Beyoncé, Madonna and Mick Jagger had stayed in its suites.

The accident occurred when the Cuban tourism sector was beginning to reactivate after two years of forced hiatus due to the restrictions of the pandemic.

Tourism is key for Cuba, the second largest industry in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign exchange contribution, and to channel its economic recovery.

The country is going through a serious economic crisis due to the conjunction of the pandemic, the tightening of the sanctions of the US embargo and the failures in the national economic policy.

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