Crews respond to explosion and fire at 5th and Cedar Ave. S. in Minneapolis (Photo: David Vance - KARE)
MINNEAPOLIS - Authorities said Thursday they have
discovered a body in the ruins of a Minneapolis apartment fire, as
investigators were honing in on natural gas as a potential cause of the
explosion and blaze that left 14 other people injured.
Fire Chief John Fruetel said the investigation was ongoing
and the fire's exact cause was still unknown Thursday - and may never be
determined. But, he said, because of the nature of the debris field and because
some witnesses spoke of an odor, investigators were focusing on a gas explosion
as a possibility.
Becca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy, said
there were no natural gas leaks in the system and the utility received no
reports of a suspicious odor before the blast.
Fire officials say they received a call about an explosion
about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, and within minutes a fire raged through the three-story building. In sub-zero temperatures, paramedics responded to find
victims on the ground, some with injuries that suggested they may have fallen
Fruetel said that as of Thursday afternoon, authorities had
identified 13 of the 14 people injured. Authorities released no identifying
information about the person found dead Thursday. The body was turned over to
the medical examiner.
Of the injured, three people remained in critical condition
at Hennepin County Medical Center, while six were in satisfactory condition,
according to the hospital. University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview,
said it was treating at least two patients Thursday: one was in serious
condition with broken bones and one was in good condition with back pain.
Shortly before the body was found Thursday, Fruetel said
that two people remained unaccounted for and crews would continue to remove
debris from the site in a slow, respectful manner.
The apartment building, which also houses a grocery store,
is in the heart of Minneapolis' Somali community. Several spoke of the
heartache of not knowing whether their loved ones made it out of the building
Katra Ali Hethar, of Waite Park in central Minnesota, said
her husband was among the missing. Her eyes watered and she was emotional as
she spoke about her husband, who moved to Minneapolis because he was looking for
"I was talking to him that happy New Year's night, and
that is something I can't get out of my head," she said through a
translator, as she grasped her head with her hands. "I was told he might
have burned in that building."
Hethar said her husband and his roommate were still missing.
She was among several who said they went from hospital to hospital, hoping to
She said police took DNA from her husband's sons, so they
could positively identify any remains that were found.
Shareef Hassan said his friend was also one of the missing.
"I got heartbreak," Hassan said. "I hope
everything is going to be OK."
Betsy Hodges, who was sworn in as Minneapolis' new mayor
earlier Thursday, said she knew it was an agonizing time for families.
"The city stands with you," she said, adding.
"When one part of our community is hurting, our entire community is
Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of
Somali Community in Minnesota, said his group opened a fund to collect
donations for victims and families.