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Blackout hits Havana’s colonial tourist zone

Friday, July 20, 2012    

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HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — A blackout left thousands without power yesterday in much of Havana’s colonial quarter, a densely populated neighbourhood popular with tourists.

The outage coincided with a Wednesday night explosion and fire related to the area’s underground electrical system at an apartment building on a central plaza.

“We heard the explosion, and when I went out on the balcony I saw fire and smoke,” said Mayra Gonzalez, who lives nearby. “We stayed outside until midnight because we were afraid.”

The following day a charred smell still hung in the air, and the building’s portals and yellow facade were blackened from the flames and smoke. There were no reports of injuries or deaths.

Dozens of shops and restaurants were closed. Most hotels switched to backup generators and were functioning normally, though at least one was without power or water.

“There is nothing,” said Jens Peter, a 31-year-old bodyguard visiting from Berlin. “They put candles in the rooms.”

Electricity went out in other parts of Old Havana following another explosion yesterday morning several blocks away on a well-trafficked pedestrian street. Many businesses including an optician’s shop next door were forced to close.

It was not clear what caused the blasts. Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Service was being restored to at least some buildings by the afternoon.

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