Minneapolis officials confirmed 14 people were injured, including 6 with critical injuries, in a building explosion and fire Wednesday morning on Cedar Avenue.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said the explosion was reported at 8:16 a.m. at 516 Cedar Avenue – a building that includes a grocery store, several apartment units upstairs, and is connected to the Islamic Civic Society of America & Masjid Dar Al-Hijrah mosque on the ground floor.
On Wednesday night, Somali community advocate Abdi Bihi told Fox 9 that 2 people remained unaccounted for; however, fire officials would not confirm or deny that number, saying only that they are unable to determine if everyone made it out of the building.
At a Wednesday morning news conference, Fruetel said it was "way too early" to determine the cause of the explosion. Centerpoint Energy had no reports of a gas leak in the area.
Anyone with information about what may have caused the explosion and fire is asked to call the Minneapolis Arson Squad at 612-673-3389.
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When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting 20 feet into the air from the second and third floors of the building. After 15 minutes inside combating the flames from the first floor, safety concerns forced firefighters to evacuate and take a defensive approach.
SOME VICTIMS JUMPED
To escape the fire, some people jumped from second and third-floor apartments.
The fire chief said 9 of the building's 10 apartment units were occupied. Firefighters were able to enter the building and rescue some victims that were not found outside as they made entry to the first floor, but the structural damage forced them back outside in a matter of minutes.
"What we need out of people right now is their hopes and prayers," Mayor R.T. Rybak said.
Hennepin County Medical Center said it received 11 victims from the fire, with at least 3 in critical condition and 7 in satisfactory condition. Three people were taken to the Fairview Riverside hospital at the University of Minnesota.
By Wednesday evening, HCMC confirmed they the 3 patients in critical condition had 6 in satisfactory condition.
Injuries range from burns to trauma associated with falls, and responding paramedics say some of the injuries suggest the victims fell multiple stories; however, specific information related to the identities of the victims and their conditions has not yet been released.
"It's not clear whether people were pushed out of the building from the explosion or whether they fell or jumped out of windows to escape," Robert Ball, spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services, told The Associated Press.
"On behalf of all Minnesotans, I extend my deepest sympathies to the victims of today's awful fire in Minneapolis and to their families and friends. We hope for your swift and complete recoveries," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. "I also want to thank the state troopers, Minneapolis police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who endangered themselves to save the lives of those engulfed by this terrible tragedy."
RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS, LOVED ONES
The Brian Coyle Community Center was opened so that family members could reunite with victims of the fire while officials set up a hub for getting those who have been displaced in contact with organizations that can provide them with much-needed resources.
Representatives with the Red Cross and Salvation Army spent much of the day there to provide assistance to victims who were not injured; however, representatives say only 2 residents were not hospitalized, and after providing temporary housing to them, the center closed at 5 p.m.
Fox 9 News is looking into ways that members of the community can help.
The grocery store that was destroyed and the mosque attached to the complex are considered landmarks in the Somali-American community, and members who rallied at the scene say they believe the community will quickly come together to rebuild and support the victims.
Imam Abdisalam Adam confirmed that spiritual leaders have discussed holding services at the Brian Coyle Community Center if they cannot use their structure while repairs are made.
SUBZERO TEMPERATURES IMPEDED FIREFIGHTING
Firefighters were hampered by the extreme cold, which transformed water from the hoses into icicles on window frames and doors, leaving the street slick and icy.
The conditions brought an additional set of hazards to the 55 firefighters who responded to the scene, posing a risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
By 11:30 a.m., the fire appeared to be under control; however, Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Cherie Penn said since the roof had partially collapsed, it was too dangerous for firefighters or investigators to enter the building.
At about 2 p.m., Penn told Fox 9 News firefighters were still "nowhere close" to going inside to look for any victims who may not have escaped the flames.
Officials held a 3 p.m. press conference at the Brian Coyle Community Center to confirm that although 3 people are unaccounted for, it is still too dangerous to go inside. The fire chief did not know when that may change, but said the investigation remains active and ongoing.
MPD: EARLIER POLICE CALL UNRELATED
Minneapolis police confirmed officers were at the same address earlier Wednesday morning, but said it was a separate service call that was unrelated to the explosion.
The building was last inspected in 2012 and there are no outstanding inspection issues, according to city officials.