Shortly before midnight Tuesday, outgoing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak wished his Twitter followers a happy New Year and asked them to hope for “no snowstorm or other catastrophe in the next day so I can go out with a whimper as befitting a happy lame duck.”
That lighthearted wish went unfulfilled. By 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Rybak and his successor, Betsy Hodges, were at the scene of an explosion and fire that left one person dead and at least 14 injured — six critically — in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Firefighters had responded to a report of an explosion shortly after 8 a.m. New Year’s Day. They found several injured people outside the building and were able to rescue others inside before crews had to be evacuated for their own safety. More than 50 firefighters battled the intense fire in subzero temperatures throughout New Year’s Day.
The investigation into the cause of the fire continued Thursday as crews carefully worked to clear debris and search for victims. Officials said before the discovery of a body Thursday afternoon that two people who lived in the 10 apartments above an immigrant-owned grocery store at 516 Cedar Av. S. were missing.
The Ontonga grocery was especially popular among the neighborhood’s thousands of Somali-American residents, many of whom have made Minneapolis their home after escaping dangerous conditions in the war-torn East African country.
To his credit, City Council Member-elect Abdi Warsame called on the Somali community to take the lead in helping victims of the fire. But we’d echo Rybak and Hodges, who both emphasized that Minneapolis residents beyond Cedar-Riverside need to show support for their neighbors in need.
Shortly after she was sworn into office Thursday, Hodges said at a news conference that the city stands ready to provide social service help and business assistance for the victims. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., also pledged the support of the state’s congressional delegation.
First responders deserve the community’s thanks for the dangerous work they did Wednesday. Despite the intensity of the blaze and the severity of the weather conditions, no firefighters were injured.
For that — and for the well-coordinated and heartfelt response of local officials — we can all be thankful.