A large explosion damaged a hotel in the Cuban capital and left at least eight people dead and several others injured, according to media reports.

The five-star Hotel Saratoga is located in Old Havana, Cuba.
The five-star Hotel Saratoga is located in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP)

A deadly explosion hit a well-known hotel in downtown Havana, tearing a gash several floors high in the side of the building, killing at least 22 people and sending 74 more to hospital, witnesses and state media said.

Speaking from the scene on Cuban television, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the blast at the historic Hotel Saratoga appeared to have been caused by a gas leak.

"In no case was it a bomb or an attack," he told on Friday as he left the capital's Calixto Garcia hospital, where many of the injured were treated.

'It's just a very unfortunate accident."

The blast nonetheless sent a brief wave of panic through the historic old Havana neighborhood, which has gradually begun reopening to tourists after the pandemic battered the Caribbean island's crucial travel sector.

Hundreds of Cubans and tourists alike gathered near the property under a hot sun as police cordoned off the area around the hotel. Many speculated about the cause of the blast as ambulances and rescue workers carried victims from the wreckage.

Several people trapped

Authorities said search and rescue efforts were under way for people possibly trapped.

Photos 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.

Photographer Michel Figueroa said he had been walking past the hotel when “the explosion threw me to the ground, and my head still hurts.... Everything was very fast.”

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.”

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.

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

Source: TRTWorld and agencies