Cuba hotel explosion badly damaged major Baptist church

Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, looks at the damage inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which sits next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The Baptists bought the property in 1889 and gradually established the church, a printing house, a school, a seminary and the headquarters that now serves about 70,000 Baptists in western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, looks at the damage inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which sits next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The Baptists bought the property in 1889 and gradually established the church, a printing house, a school, a seminary and the headquarters that now serves about 70,000 Baptists in western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The explosion that devastated Havana's Hotel Saratoga and killed 45 people also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which is next door

HAVANA (AP) — Alejandro Clemente González was talking with an electrician while preparing for weekend services at Cuba's most important Baptist church when an enormous explosion shook the building and shattered the 19th century dome towering far above the pews.

Concrete plunged from walls, wood and glass showered down from the windows as an apparent gas explosion next door killed 45 people in and around the devastated Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana on May 6.

“I didn't know what was happening," González, the church administrator, said with a trembling voice as he revisited the sanctuary with Associated Press journalists Wednesday. “I called on the Lord, ‘What is this, Lord? Help us!’”

He said the two men heard the cries of a receptionist as debris tumbled down around them, obstructing their path.

“I remembered that there was an exit at the back, and then the brothers who were on the third floor came down, we all met, we counted one another,” and managed to escape. All 18 people who had been inside were physically unharmed, if shaken.

“Since then I have slept badly. I jump at every sound,” González said.

Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only Calvary Baptist Church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba.

Sunlight glows through cracks in the outer walls, windows are shattered, their frames torn from the walls. Halls and rooms of the broken hotel are visible through a gap. A thick layer of gray dust covers the dark wood pews where hundreds meet for worship services.

The elegant building then known as the Teatro Marti was just a few years old when, in 1887, Baptists began holding services across the street on a corner in Old Havana that had once held a circus. Cuba was still a Spanish colony and its Capitol building — modeled on the U.S. Capitol — wouldn't be built nearby for a few decades yet.

The Baptists bought the property in 1889 and gradually established the church, a printing house, a school, a seminary and the headquarters that now serves about 70,000 Baptists in western Cuba. Overall, the church estimates there about about 200,000 Baptists across the whole island.

“For each believer, each Christian, each Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said the Rev. David González, 31, who has lived for the past two years in an apartment beside the church that is now partially collapsed.

Government authorities had focused emergency efforts on trying to find the living and the dead in and around the devastated hotel — they reported two more bodies recovered Thursday and called a halt to the search. The government declared a period of national mourning for Friday and Saturday.

Authorities had not yet met with church officials about the status of the church.

“They transmitted to us a desire to help as much as passible,” said the Rev. Bárbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba. “It's clear there aren't all the resources needed for restoration and they also asked us to collect help, which as we know has been offered by churches in the country itself ... and also in the world.”

“We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," he said, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure.

Since the building is registered as part of the country's historical heritage, repairs would be under the auspices of the Havana Historian's Office, which has overseen the restoration of much of Old Havana in recent decades.

“We are actively going to involve ourselves in this process and with all the brothers, friends who have offered to help, we hope to make a beautiful project," Marrero said.

Meanwhile, members of the church are attending other congregations, though the government offered to help find temporary space for those from Calvary.

___

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

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A view of the damaged Hotel Saratoga and the 19th century dome of the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A view of the damaged Hotel Saratoga and the 19th century dome of the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door.  (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A view of the damaged Hotel Saratoga and the 19th century dome of the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A recovery team searches through the rooms of the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A recovery team searches through the rooms of the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.  The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door.  (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A recovery team searches through the rooms of the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A member of the Cuban Red Cross takes pictures inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated Havana's Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Church officials say that fortunately, none of the people inside were hurt in the May 6 explosion. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A member of the Cuban Red Cross takes pictures inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated Havana's Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Church officials say that fortunately, none of the people inside were hurt in the May 6 explosion. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A member of the Cuban Red Cross takes pictures inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated Havana's Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Church officials say that fortunately, none of the people inside were hurt in the May 6 explosion. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, is interviewed inside the the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, is interviewed inside the the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, is interviewed inside the the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A member of the Cuban Red Cross jumps a wall as he leaves the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A member of the Cuban Red Cross jumps a wall as he leaves the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door.  (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A member of the Cuban Red Cross jumps a wall as he leaves the Calvary Baptist Church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga and killed dozens also badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. David Gonzalez looks at his phone standing next to a door that frames a damaged stairwell in the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rev. David Gonzalez looks at his phone standing next to a door that frames a damaged stairwell in the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.  The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door.  (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. David Gonzalez looks at his phone standing next to a door that frames a damaged stairwell in the Hotel Saratoga as seen from inside the Calvary Baptist Church, also damaged by an explosion that devastated the hotel, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion killed dozens and badly damaged Cuba's most important Baptist church, which sits next door. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A crack runs through a wall alongside a painting hanging in Rev. David Gonzalez's apartment, located in the Calvary Baptist Church building, damaged by an explosion that devastated the next door Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A crack runs through a wall alongside a painting hanging in Rev. David Gonzalez's apartment, located in the Calvary Baptist Church building, damaged by an explosion that devastated the next door Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A crack runs through a wall alongside a painting hanging in Rev. David Gonzalez's apartment, located in the Calvary Baptist Church building, damaged by an explosion that devastated the next door Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A view of a corridor inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, which sits next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Since the building is registered as part of the country's historical heritage, repairs would be under the auspices of the Havana Historian's Office, which has overseen the restoration of much of Old Havana in recent decades. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A view of a corridor inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, which sits next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Since the building is registered as part of the country's historical heritage, repairs would be under the auspices of the Havana Historian's Office, which has overseen the restoration of much of Old Havana in recent decades. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A view of a corridor inside the Calvary Baptist Church, damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga, which sits next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Since the building is registered as part of the country's historical heritage, repairs would be under the auspices of the Havana Historian's Office, which has overseen the restoration of much of Old Havana in recent decades. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, walks inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, walks inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. Barbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, walks inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “We still don't know exactly the magnitude of the damage," said Marrero Castellanos, adding that some specialists have said they might have to evaluate possibly demolishing parts of the structure. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Church administrator Alejandro Clemente Gonzalez poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Gonzalez was talking with an electrician while preparing for weekend services inside the church when the May 6 explosion shook the building and shattered the 19th century dome towering far above the pews. “I didn't know what was happening," recalls Gonzalez with a trembling voice. “I called on the Lord, ‘What is this, Lord? Help us!’” (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Church administrator Alejandro Clemente Gonzalez poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Gonzalez was talking with an electrician while preparing for weekend services inside the church when the May 6 explosion shook the building and shattered the 19th century dome towering far above the pews. “I didn't know what was happening," recalls Gonzalez with a trembling voice. “I called on the Lord, ‘What is this, Lord? Help us!’” (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Church administrator Alejandro Clemente Gonzalez poses for a photo inside the Calvary Baptist Church damaged by an explosion that devastated the Hotel Saratoga which is located next door, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Gonzalez was talking with an electrician while preparing for weekend services inside the church when the May 6 explosion shook the building and shattered the 19th century dome towering far above the pews. “I didn't know what was happening," recalls Gonzalez with a trembling voice. “I called on the Lord, ‘What is this, Lord? Help us!’” (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. David Gonzalez uses his phone to illuminate damage inside the Calvary Baptist Church, caused by an explosion that devastated the nearby Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “For each believer, each Christian, each Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said Gonzalez, 31, who has lived for the past two years in an apartment beside the church that is now partially collapsed. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rev. David Gonzalez uses his phone to illuminate damage inside the Calvary Baptist Church, caused by an explosion that devastated the nearby Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “For each believer, each Christian, each Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said Gonzalez, 31, who has lived for the past two years in an apartment beside the church that is now partially collapsed. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rev. David Gonzalez uses his phone to illuminate damage inside the Calvary Baptist Church, caused by an explosion that devastated the nearby Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “For each believer, each Christian, each Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said Gonzalez, 31, who has lived for the past two years in an apartment beside the church that is now partially collapsed. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A military officer surveys the Hotel Saratoga, seen through a gap in a wall of the Calvary Baptist Church, days after a deadly explosion devastated the hotel and badly damaged the church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

A military officer surveys the Hotel Saratoga, seen through a gap in a wall of the Calvary Baptist Church, days after a deadly explosion devastated the hotel and badly damaged the church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
A military officer surveys the Hotel Saratoga, seen through a gap in a wall of the Calvary Baptist Church, days after a deadly explosion devastated the hotel and badly damaged the church, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Parts of the upper floors have collapsed at the building that houses not only the church but a seminary and the denomination's headquarters for western Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rescue workers and members of the Cuban Red Cross walk in front of the damaged Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged the Calvary Baptist Church, Cuba's most important Baptist church, which is pictured alongside the hotel, on the left. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Rescue workers and members of the Cuban Red Cross walk in front of the damaged Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged the Calvary Baptist Church, Cuba's most important Baptist church, which is pictured alongside the hotel, on the left. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

caption arrowCaption
Rescue workers and members of the Cuban Red Cross walk in front of the damaged Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The May 6th explosion that devastated the hotel and killed dozens also badly damaged the Calvary Baptist Church, Cuba's most important Baptist church, which is pictured alongside the hotel, on the left. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa