“I didn’t know what was going on,” the church administrator said in a trembling voice as he reviewed the sanctuary with the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I called to the Lord, ‘Lord, what is this? Help us! ‘”
He said the two men heard the screams of a receptionist as debris fell around them, blocking their way.
“I remember there was an exit at the back, and then the brothers who were on the third floor came down, we all met, we counted each other,” and managed to escape. All 18 people inside were physically unharmed when shaken.
“I have been sleeping badly ever since. I jump at every word, ”Gonzalez said.
Parts of the upper floor have collapsed, and the building houses not only the Calvary Baptist Church but also a seminary and the head office of religion for West Cuba.
The sun is shining through the cracks in the outer walls, the windows are broken, their frames are torn from the walls. The halls and rooms of the broken hotel can be seen through the gaps. A thick layer of gray dust covers the dark wooden pews where hundreds gather for worship services.
The famous, elegant building now known as the Tetro Marty was just a few years old when, in 1887, Baptists began placing services across the street in a corner of Old Havana where there was once a circus. Cuba was still a Spanish colony and its capital building – modeled on the US capital – would not be built for decades to come.
The Baptists bought the property in 1889 and gradually established a church, a printing press, a school, a seminary and a headquarters that now serves about 70,000 Baptists in western Cuba. Overall, the church estimates that there are approximately 200,000 Baptists in the entire island.
“Every believer, every Christian, every Baptist who comes, this is their home,” said the Rev. David Gonzalez, 31, who has been living in an apartment next to the church for the past two years, has now been partially demolished.
Authorities have so far focused on emergency efforts to find the living and the dead in and around the destroyed hotel, but they have met with church officials about the state of the church.
Reverend Barbaro Abel Marro Castellanos, president of the West Cuban Baptist Convention, said: “They have sent us as much help as possible.” “It’s clear we don’t have all the resources needed to recover, and they asked us to help, which we know the country’s churches themselves … and the world have to offer.”
“We still do not know the exact amount of damage,” he said, adding that some experts said they would probably have to evaluate the demolition of some parts of the structure.
Since the building is registered as part of the country’s historic heritage, repairs will be carried out under the auspices of the Havana Historic Office, which has overseen much of the restoration of old Havana in recent decades.
“We are going to actively involve ourselves in this process and all the brothers, friends who have offered to help, we hope to create a wonderful project,” Marrero said.
Meanwhile, church members are joining other churches, although the government has offered to help find a temporary place for Assad from Calvary.
Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP