Old Havana Building Collapse Kills Four

July 16, 2015 |

By Fabian Flores  (Café Fuerte)

Another building collapses in Old Havana, killing four persons.  Photo: Oriol de la Cruz Atenccio/AIN

Another building collapses in Old Havana, killing four persons. Photo: Oriol de la Cruz Atenccio/AIN

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.

Total collapse

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.

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  • Moses Patterson

    This is so sad. On my first visit to Cuba years ago, a building collapsed a block away from my casa particular. A little girl who I had just met the day before was killed. I was struck by how everyone in the neighborhood knew this building was due to collapse. On a later visit just after Hurricane Gilbert, the building that a friend of mine lived in partially collapsed leaving one neighbor dead. Unfortunately, she had no other option but to stay in the building despite the danger. Finally, on a later visit, I was walking down L street near La Rampa with heavy tourist and local foot traffic just after heavy rains when a huge 3rd floor balcony on a building across the street suddenly fell to the ground. No one was hurt this time but I was left chilled. The Castros, rather than spending millions on internal state security designed to harass fellow Cubans, should redirect these resources to rebuilding their infrastructure and saving lives.

    • Wolf

      I am a business owner in the US and I’m in the process of establishing an office in Cuba. This office would offer free consulting services to farmers and ranchers and might even make a small profit for us someday. Now after reading most all of your posts here and in other online publications for the last few months, I’m having second thoughts. I knew the Cuban government would be of no help to us, certain people would be opposed to us from the start, others would be skeptical and suspicious of us, internal transportation almost doesn’t exist, international banking would be difficult, our phones and emails would be tapped, and now you’re telling me that I might be crushed to death in my own office. It sounds to me that if your elitist government officials gave a party in Old Havana, no one would come except maybe some tourist. I need a little encouragement. WOLF

      • Moses Patterson

        The truth is that buildings at risk of collapsing are easy to spot. It’s the one being propped up by rotting wooden beams and crumbling mortar. There are still plenty of well-maintained structures so the least of your reasons for opening a business in Cuba should be the building to house the office.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        My original reason for visiting Cuba was to attend the AGM of a group all of whom hold a certain international agricultural scholarship. The most important consequence for me was that out in a small town in Cuba I met the lady who was to become my second wife, the first having died ten years earlier. As my wife holds a responsible position in education, we have a home in Cuba (including our dog) and I commute spending more than half my time there. My wife spends her summer vacation here in Canada.
        As one who practiced consultancy I would love to speak to you about my accumulated knowledge of Cuban agriculture, but these columns are not the place for as you can observe there are a fair number of contributors who are more concerned about supporting the regime, “socialismo” and being anti-capitalist. Cuba does have a very active so-called “security” service and care is wise.
        The potential of Cuban agriculture is enormous, huge tracts of land that once grew sugar-cane reverting to bush. Some excellent potential employees, but there are a list of “buts”.
        I do not know whether Circles Robinson would have a way of providing our e-mail addresses to each other. If not then further discussion is not possible.

        • Wolf

          Thank you. My email address is

          eloign3227atmypacksdotnet I’d really love to talk to you.

      • Ivan Vargas Acosta

        Like the US Army doctrine You train better than the fight. Be prepare for it but go for it. Cuban people need to see brave Americans like you breaking 50 plus years of isolation from the Castro’s regime. As much people, more foreign countries support the barefooted Cubans the regime will crumbling from its own weigh

    • Rich Haney

      Moses, this is a tragedy, not a propaganda topic. I have been to Cuba and both witnessed and visited similar housing. I have also noted how a cruel embargo supposedly created to hurt Fidel Castro decades ago continues to greatly harm everyday Cubans. I speak of an embargo imposed in 1962 and since strengthened by heartless minions. The tenets of the embargo have resulted in such senselessness as a Jamaican company, 10% U. S. owned, being fined for sending a crate of baby aspirin to the island. The embargo has also severely hampered building material from reaching the island. To dismiss foreign involvements in Cuban problems is to be both callous and self-serving, in my opinion. Well-to-do and Holier-than-thou critics off the island have grown very tiresome since the 1950s, even as Fidel Castro nears his 89th birthday next month. Decent people, not propagandists nor those who benefit from hubris, need to refurbish Cuba and, to the chagrin of some, that process has started. The historic capital building in Havana is being refurbished, as are many buildings and hotels. A new highway and a new railroad between Havana and the state-of-the-art Mariel Port have just been completed. Much more needs to be done. Left in the hands of good people, and without foreign troublemakers, a rebuilding of Cuba is highly feasible and, in fact, is underway, just as two recent articles on the vast Voice of America network explained.

      • Moses Patterson

        How can you blame the embargo in one sentence and extolled the completion of non-housing infrastructure in the next? If the Castros found the bricks and mortar to build a port that remains vacant and a railway with no trains, why didn’t they build homes for the millions of Cuban ready to move in to them?

        • Rich Haney

          I don’t consider the Voice of America network a propaganda machine, Moses. Thus, I trust VOA above propagandists. In that forum this week I read where the Muriel Port is up and running and Ms. Igarza, its Director, is accepting one foreign company per month, with five already signed on. She and VOA expect it to eventually employ 70,000 people. “Vacant?” That’s a propaganda word, Moses. I didn’t see that word mentioned in the VOA article.

          • Moses Patterson

            Have you seen the Port since it’s upgrade. Keep in mind it already was Cuba’s largest port even before Castro went begging for a Brazilian handout. IF, and it’s a big if, they are telling the truth and really signing up one new business every month, what does that mean? Tenants come and go in port operations. As of December 2014, it was a ghost town. That’s not propaganda, that’s fact.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        UNESCO funding enables the 1928 capital building to be re-furbished (UNESCO gets its money from the so-called “foreign troublemakers) and the Mariel Port project was funded by Brazil approved by Lulu. It is UNESCO money that restored old Havana and similarly Trinidad and now Cienfuegos. The “decent people” who provide this funding can be ascertained by a little search on the web – so go to it and do please report back.
        Where I happen to agree with you is that the purpose of the embargo was to endeavor to remove the Castros and their newly declared Communist form of government. If the Castros had gone, the embargo would have gone with them. They having power and control chose to remain and the Cuban people have suffered the consequences.
        “I do not seek power and I will not accept it.”
        Fidel Castro Ruz
        January, 1960 (aged 44)

  • The Anti-imperialist

    How many more buildings will have to collapse, 10?, 100?, 1,000? before an emergency plan is put in place? And by the way, who should be held responsible for such neglect? It’s a good thing for them that lawsuits for such cases go nowhere in Cuba.

    • Griffin

      And by the way, who should be held responsible for such neglect?

      Raul and Fidel Castro. They have run the country into the ground these past 56 years and ruined Cuba.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      There is a clear answer to your second question.
      The Castro family regime in concert with the Communist Party of Cuba.

  • So this is what the tourists want to see? Or maybe just watch old cars rust away before their very eyes? Or maybe just see really poor people eating grass?

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      What the tourists see is the consequence of Socialismo’s neglect.

  • Charles Bailey

    If there is no equity in property ownership to tax or borrow money for repairs, as is the case in socialist Cuba for the last 60 years, one can expect the continued collapse of real estate.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    As I have said previously in these columns, when asked to describe Cuba in one word, I responded “crumbling”.
    The years of neglect under the Castro family regimes reign have led to a beautiful country deteriorating to a literal infrastructure collapse. The economic structure of the country is controlled by GAESA which failed to address the needs of the populace, giving precedence to pursuing grandiose illusions. There was money to pursue military ambitions in thirteen other countries. There is money to buy new Peugeot vans and cars for ETECSA. UNESCO finance fortunately saved large parts of Habana Vieja and Trinidad, but the regime had other political priorities and peoples homes were not on their list and neither was consideration of their safety.
    Show pieces for visiting politicians include Mariel, but where are the reports upon business activity there? New roads and a new railway for what?
    The figure of 39% of housing stock being in only fair or poor condition ought to be a matter of shame for the Castro family regime, but they know no shame and little if any humanity.

  • Donald Thureau

    This deterioration reminds me of what I saw when I used to visit the GDR from West Berlin, and the thousands of photos that I’ve seen during the era of when the communists were ruling Europe behind the Iron Curtain. Communism is a rot that can’t sustain itself and it won’t in Cuba either.

  • N.J. Marti

    $20 to $30 dollars a month average wage only goes so far.

    • Donald Thureau

      An urban renewal program should be implemented starting with Old Havana. The government has been able to do it with the historical sites, but give the people a chance to own their own apartments or buildings and the tools and building materials to help them renovate, and they will supply the labor. The state has been unable or unwilling to help out and this needs to change. They can do it going from block to block and neighborhood to neighborhood.

      • Informed Consent

        The problem is that the Cuban government is broke. Any work that’s been done has used UNESCO funds.

        • Donald Thureau

          I keep hearing that the Cuban government has no money, but now that Cuba and the US have re-established diplomatic relations, Cuba should hire some fundraisers or lobbyists to find non-profit charitable organizations in the U.S. of which there are thousands to help bring the tools and building materials to rebuild Old Havana under the auspices of charity or aid (in order to circumvent the embargo restrictions). The generosity of Americans is truly amazing. While I was visiting Cuba in 2013, someone told me that a wealthy U.S. family was financing the refurbishment of the Colon Cemetery (I did not confirm this). There are ways to fund these programs without having to give away anything in return other than gratitude.

          • Kate Burbridge

            A good idea but I bet there would be unfavourable ‘conditions’ attached to such a scheme. Cuba would have to sacrifice something precious that they have carefully retained for a long time, I’m sure.

          • Ivan Vargas Acosta

            “Cuba would have to sacrifice something precious that they have carefully retained for a long time, I’m sure” Cuba has nothing more to sacrifice, there is not freedom, or independence anymore. What are you talking about? Are you retarded? Four precious lives are gone, what else are you asking for? With friends like you and don’t need enemies.

          • Kate Burbridge

            I think you have missed my point, Ivan.