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Secondary collapse kills Cuban FFs during search for missing person

Video shows when the top floor of the Old Havana building collapsed while firefighters inside were doing a search


Rescuers work at an apartment block following a collapse in Havana.

Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

By Nora Gámez Torres
Miami Herald

HAVANA, Cuba — Just blocks away from the Cuban Capitol and popular tourist streets in Old Havana, a dilapidated residential building collapsed Tuesday evening, injuring two people and killing two firefighters who were trying to rescue residents trapped inside.

Minutes before midnight, part of the building located on the corner of Lamparilla and Villegas streets crumbled, which prompted the evacuation of the 13 families that lived there, the Cuban Ministry of Interior said in a statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

At least four search-and-rescue units were already in the area when most of the building’s remaining structure collapsed, killing two firefighters: Yoandra Suárez López, 40, and Luis Alejandro Llerena Martínez, 23. The Interior Ministry confirmed their deaths on Wednesday afternoon.

A video posted by a Facebook group called Cuban Firefighters shows the moment the top floor of the four-story building fell, and a few rescue team members managed to escape.

On Wednesday afternoon, the rescue teams were still searching for a third person, 79-year-old Ramón Páez Frómeta, who was believed to be inside the building. Another two people were hospitalized with injuries, Granma reported.

Cuban authorities said that 54 people lived in the building just a block from Obrapia, a pedestrian boulevard connecting the Capitol to the seaside promenade known as the Malecón, traversing the historic Old Havana district.

The total or partial collapse of old buildings has become frequent in Havana, where century-old colonial structures restored as hotels by the government usually sit next door to decrepit residential buildings deemed uninhabitable by architects but still housing several families that have nowhere to go and lack the money to repair them.

In August, another building collapsed in Paseo del Prado, Old Havana’s main boulevard, but no injuries were reported.

There are no home-repair stores like Home Depot in Cuba, and construction materials are either centrally distributed by the state or sold in government stores at high prices. Multifamily homes do not have associations that manage maintenance.

According to official 2020 figures, almost 40% of Cuba’s residential buildings and family homes, about 1.45 million, are in poor condition. Authorities have said that the country needs to build 800,000 home units to deal with the housing problem.

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