They wandered to the port looking out over the bay. Many boats were docked: the white-hulled Maine, the Commercial Steamer of Washington, and the Spanish boats, the warship Alfonso XII and Legazpi bobbing in the water.
Pedro had arranged for a late supper at an outdoor café near the harbor. At nine thirty that night they wandered back to the restaurant. The couple snuggled close as pre-Lenten revelers danced to the rumba sounds played by an orchestra inside the café.
Most of the Maine’s officers were aboard ship by nine forty that night. Precisely then, a tremendous shudder began under the forward part of the ship. The officer on watch, John Hood, heard a second explosion occur.
The couple’s wine glasses shook. Suddenly, loud, booming noises emanated from the harbor and a volcanic explosion resounded.
Pedro pushed Domitila under their table as falling ceiling plaster and showers of glass flew from the restaurant window frames; city lights went out and people were engulfed in darkness.
People ran by, some bloodied, shouting, “What is it, what is it?” Someone yelled the arsenal across the bay must have blown up. Pedro ventured to look up and saw the harbor ablaze with an intense light. Many comets of light, rocket-like, illumined the air above the harbor.
Domitila peeked out from under the table at her husband, “Pedro, what do we do? Is it a riot? Are we in the middle of a battle?”
“No, Querida, I think something’s happened to one of the ships; maybe an incident happened on the American ship, the Maine.”
Gotanegras was right. The U.S. ship, the Maine, exploded killing two hundred fifty-eight American sailors. The next few hours were total chaos. Men screamed to be rescued as they bobbed up and down in the murky, dark waters. Boats from the nearby naval yard rushed to the scene, picking up wounded men off the ship and out of the debris-choked water. Out of three hundred fifty-five officers, sailors and marines on board at the time of the destruction, ninety-six survived; sixteen sailors remained completely unharmed.
The Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII and the American Steamer City of Washington searched desperately for survivors in spite of the exploding ammunition. The majority of the wounded were housed on the City of Washington.
Spanish officers and civilians came onboard to express their sympathy. Spanish flags at General Blanco’s palace flew at halfmast, all business in Havana suspended and theatres closed.
“The American Press is going to blame the Spaniards for the Maine’s explosion,” said Gotanegras, “and this is going to cause McKinley to act; exactly what William Randolph Hearst wants him to do — declare war on Spain.”