By Fabian Flores (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — A building in the historic center of Havana collapsed at dawn on Wednesday leaving four dead, including a three-year-old child, and three other people injured.
The dramatic incident occurred at 7 a.m. when the two-story building located at number 409 Habana St., between Obispo and Obrapía Streets in Old Havana crumbled in seconds in the full view of early morning passersby.
“I heard the rumble and I turned around to see what happened,” said Mario Hernandez, a senior who lives in the area and walked down there at the time of collapse. “What I saw was terrible.”
The incident took the lives of Henola Alvarez Martinez, 3, Jorge A. Alvarez Rodriguez and Glendys Amayi Perez Kindelan, both 18, and Mayra Paez Mora, 60, according to a statement released last night by the Havana Province authorities.
The note adds that three other people were injured but whose lives were not in danger. Two of the wounded were treated at the Calixto García General Hospital and a child at the Juan Manuel Márquez Pediatric Hospital. Although the official report does not say so, the child is said to be a five month old baby.
After the fact, specialized forces of the Fire Department of the Interior Ministry rushed to the scene for rescue and moving debris.
The collapse was total. According to the first report from the authorities, at the time of the crash nobody was on the ground floor, while there were seven persons upstairs.
“The causes of the accident, including the scope and legal status of any building going on in the interior of the apartment on the first floor, are under investigation”, concluded the statement.
The area was immediately cordoned off, but that did not stop the first reports going out from the independent press. A video released by Arcelio Molina, member of the opposition organization UNPACU, launched the alert.
The tragedy took place two hours before the plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power at the Havana Convention Center was set to begin. However, nothing was said among the deputies or from the president -at least it wasn’t mentioned in the media- until the evening television news program. The online edition of the provincial newspaper Tribuna de La Habana still has not even reported the statement of the provincial administration.
An area frequented by tourists
Among those who went to the scene to see what had happened in the early morning hours were representatives of the Office of the Havana City Historian, Eusebio Leal, and from the Construction Business Group of the Council of the Provincial Administration.
The disaster scene is an area of high tourist flow. The time when the collapse occurred kept it from becoming a spectacle of great visibility to passersby by locals and foreign tourists.
Rains and decades of neglect have made these tragedies a part of contemporary life in Havana. The buildings and facades that Leal’s office is striving to repair are only a small portion of a huge disaster. The neighboring municipality of Centro Habana is far worse, with more than 230 annual collapses per year.
The housing situation in the country leaves much to be desired, note the government’s own housing authorities. Thirty-nine percent of the existing housing stock is in fair or poor condition. That means more than 1.7 million homes are in need of considerable or urgent repair.
In late April, heavy rains and floods that hit the city left three dead and 47 partial and totally collapsed homes in the municipalities of Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Regla and San Miguel del Padron,
Much remains to be seen in this daily horror movie filmed in slow motion in this decaying city with images of 50’s cars, upscale private restaurants and United States tourists that come to see us as if they visited a world destined to disappear.