Hotel Explosion in Cuba Severely Damages Large Baptist Church |
HAVANA – Alejandro Clemente González was talking with an electrician as he prepared for weekend services at Cuba’s most important Baptist church when a huge explosion shook the building and shattered the 19th-century dome that shattered rose well above the benches.
Concrete plunged from walls, wood and glass poured from windows as an apparent gas explosion nearby killed 45 people in and around the devastated Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana on May 6.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” González, the church administrator, said in a shaky voice as he revisited the sanctuary with Associated Press reporters on Wednesday. “I called out to the Lord, ‘What is it, Lord? Help us!'”
He said the two men heard the screams of a receptionist as debris fell around them, obstructing their path.
“I remembered that there was an exit in the back, then the brothers who were on the third floor came down, we all met, we counted each other”, and managed to escape. The 18 people inside were physically unharmed, although they had been shaken.
“Since then, I sleep badly. I jump at every sound,” González said.
Parts of the upper floors have collapsed in the building that not only houses Calvary Baptist Church, but also a seminary and the denomination’s headquarters for western Cuba.
Sunlight shines through cracks in the exterior walls, windows are shattered, their frames torn from the walls. Halls and rooms of the shattered hotel are visible through a space. A thick layer of gray dust covers the dark wooden pews where hundreds of people gather for worship services.
The elegant building then known as Teatro Marti was only a few years old when, in 1887, Baptists began holding services across the street in a corner of Old Havana that had once held a circus. Cuba was still a Spanish colony and its Capitol, modeled after the US Capitol, would not be built nearby for a few decades.
Baptists purchased the property in 1889 and gradually established the church, printing press, school, seminary, and headquarters that today serves approximately 70,000 Baptists in western Cuba. Overall, the church there estimates about 200,000 Baptists across the entire island.
“For every believer, every Christian, every Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said Reverend David González, 31, who has lived for two years in an apartment next to the now partially collapsed church.
Government authorities had focused their emergency efforts on searching for the living and dead in and around the devastated hotel – they reported two more bodies had been found on Thursday and halted the search. The government has declared a period of national mourning for Friday and Saturday.
Authorities had yet to meet with church officials about the status of the church.
“They transmitted to us the desire to help as much as possible,” said Reverend Bárbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of West Cuba. “It is clear that there are not all the resources needed for the restoration and they have also asked us to collect aid, which as we know has been offered by churches in the country itself. even… and also in the world”.
“We still don’t know the exact extent of the damage,” he said, adding that some specialists have said they may need to assess the possibility of demolishing parts of the structure.
Since the building is listed as a national historical heritage, repairs would be under the auspices of the Office of the Historian of Havana, which has overseen the restoration of much of Old Havana over the past few decades.
“We are going to be actively involved in this process and with all the brothers, friends who have offered their help, we hope to do a nice project,” Marrero said.
Meanwhile, church members attend other congregations, although the government has offered to help find temporary space for those at Calvary.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP