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Four dead, 13 missing as huge blast wrecks Havana hotel

The blast at the Saratoga Hotel killed four and injured 13 . ©AFP

Havana (AFP) - Four people were killed and 13 were missing after a massive explosion ripped through a hotel in central Havana on Friday, with rescuers desperately searching through the rubble for survivors.

Shortly after 11:00 am, a cloud of dust and smoke billowed from the five-star Saratoga Hotel in the Cuban capital as the blast -- reportedly caused by a gas leak -- tore off large parts of the facade and blew out windows.

The first four floors of the historic establishment, which was empty of guests pending refurbishment, were left gutted by the explosion.

The Cuban presidency, in a tweet, quoted Havana Communist Party official Luis Antonio Torres Iribar as confirming four deaths while "13 people remain missing."

"Initial findings indicate that the explosion was caused by a gas leak," the presidency said on Twitter.

AFP reporters witnessed rescuers at the scene going through debris piled up at the foot of the hotel.

Several vehicles near the hotel -- known for having hosted celebrities such as Madonna and Beyonce -- were destroyed.

Ambulances and five fire trucks rushed to the scene, and police cordoned off the area, dispersing people who swarmed to the site.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, accompanied by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero and National Assembly President Esteban Lazo arrived at the site as the rescue operation got underway.

According to the website of the Saratoga Hotel, it is an upmarket establishment with 96 rooms, two bars, two restaurants, a spa and gym.

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, meanwhile, said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would not cancel a trip to Cuba planned for Sunday.

"Our solidarity to the victims and affected, as well as to the people of that dear brotherly people," the minister tweeted.

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