Image Credit: AFP

Havana: The death toll in an explosion that hit a well-known hotel in downtown Havana on Friday has risen to 18, Cuba's presidency posted on Twitter.

A pregnant woman and a child were among those killed, it added.

The deadly explosion tore a gash several floors high into the side of the building, witnesses and Cuban state media said.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, speaking from the scene of the disaster on Cuban television, said the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga had not been caused by a bomb, adding that a gas leak appeared to be the most likely cause.

State TV said the blast was "not a terrorist attack," adding that the hotel was closed and only workers were inside at time of the explosion.

Photos from Granma, the Communist Party's official daily, showed images of the hotel with walls apparently blown out.

A Reuters witness saw smoke and flames coming from the building. Police and rescue workers flocked to the area, cordoning off key points and buildings nearby, including the historic Capitolio building.

A photo from the scene showed what appeared to be at least one body on the scene with a white cloth over it.

Nearby, ambulances were seen approaching a hospital in the old quarter of Havana surrounded by a crowd of doctors, nurses, police and curious onlookers.

The neoclassical style hotel was remodeled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union and was considered the place to go for visiting government officials and celebrities for many years. Recently, it had lost some of its shine with the opening of new hotels in Havana, but was still a five-star venue.

The hotel had been set for a post-pandemic re-opening in four days, according to its Facebook page.