There was a loud boom, and suddenly the walls of Abdi Qobey’s apartment flew apart as he sat watching television on New Year’s Day.
He ran through what used to be his front door to find the hall filled with flames. He could hear someone shouting for help.
Wearing just a jacket, jeans and a pair of shoes, Qobey went to the blown-out window of his second-story apartment.
“I did not hesitate,” he recalled Friday. “Outside is life. I jumped.”
From his hospital bed at Hennepin County Medical Center, Qobey, 59, described what happened at 8:16 a.m. Wednesday as an explosion and fire destroyed a Somali grocery and 10-unit apartment building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
At least 14 people were injured, six of them critically. Two people are dead.
A preliminary investigation has not yet determined the blast’s cause. Witnesses said they could smell natural gas. But a spokesperson for gas supplier CenterPoint Energy said the utility’s preliminary findings do not indicate natural gas leaks in Centerpoint’s distribution system.
A Minneapolis Fire Department spokesman confirmed that a body found Friday morning was that of the second and final person who had been unaccounted for after the blast.
The first body, found Thursday, was that of Ahmed Farah Ali, 57, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner.
Ali’s ex-wife, Hawo Daqare, said they were divorced in 2006 but had continued to share parenting of their 9-year-old son. “I feel very bad, but I cannot do anything. Imagine if you lost someone,” she said.
She said Ali lived in Apartment No. 6 on the second floor.
No official identification of the second body has been released, but family and friends said it was that of Ali’s roommate, Mrimri Farah, who was about 60.
“He was really friendly and outgoing,” said Darartu Abdi, a woman who works at a nearby insurance and medical office. She said Farah recently had stopped by her office to make plans to apply for MNsure. “He was looking forward to retiring early and living his life,” she said.
Farah previously served in the U.S. Army and at one point was stationed in Iraq, said Shareef Hassan, a friend. He had gone to live in Somalia and had come back to live in Minneapolis a couple of months ago.
Cause still unclear
Demolition of the building at 516 Cedar Av. S. was completed Friday afternoon. Crews from the Minneapolis Arson Squad and the State Fire Marshal’s Office recovered the two bodies.
The fire investigation continues, said Fire Department spokeswoman Chérie Penn.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said investigators are focusing on natural gas as a likely cause of the explosion that ignited the fire, although it could be weeks before anyone knows for sure.
Investigators early on ruled out an explosive device, Fruetel said, despite the presence of Department of Homeland Security personnel at the scene on Wednesday.
“It is too early to speculate, and this incident remains under investigation,” said CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Becca Virden, adding that the company is working with Minneapolis Fire Department investigators.
Virden said the company’s early results point away from natural gas. But “it could be a different type of gas,” she said.
The two agencies strongly disputed a Star Tribune report in Friday’s paper that they were at odds over the explosion’s cause.
Neither Qobey nor blast survivor Hersi Hassan, 29, said they smelled gas before the explosion. Hassan, who spoke to the Star Tribune on Friday from his hospital room at HCMC, said the building was on fire when he woke up.
“I see a lot of fire,” he said, and then he told his sister, who also lived there: “Wake up! Wake up!”
He broke a window and jumped from his second-floor apartment. He broke his leg doing so and suffered minor frostbite after waiting outside for help for 45 minutes, he said.
Qobey broke both legs and his back when he jumped to the sidewalk 20 feet below his apartment window.
Both men said they did not hear any fire alarms.
After two inspections in 2010, the building’s owner was ordered to fix several safety problems. Those issues had been fixed, according to city records released Thursday.
HCMC said it is treating three people critically injured in the fire and five others in satisfactory condition. One person has recovered sufficiently to leave the hospital.
The University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, said that it is treating at least two victims, one in serious condition with broken bones and another in good condition with back pain. They were not identified.
A Red Cross official said it had helped two victims and stood ready with housing, food, clothing and mental health counseling for others displaced.
The Salvation Army plans to send people to the Brian Coyle Center, 420 15th Av. S., from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday to offer aid. The agency said it is housing three survivors and can help others with relocation expenses, household items, furniture and personal items. It’s also offering to help pay funeral expenses for the two men who were killed.
The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota has opened a Wells Fargo Bank account to aid victims and their families. More information will be available on the organization’s website at http://csc-mn.org.
Augsburg College and the Cedar Cultural Center are organizing a benefit concert at the Cedar, just down Cedar Avenue from the building, for Jan. 24, according to a college spokeswoman.
The fire also displaced the Masjid Dar Al-Hijrah mosque and the Islamic Civic Society of America from their building, which wraps around the destroyed grocery-apartment building.
Several Christian and Jewish community leaders stepped forward Friday to offer their spaces for worship.
The gesture cheered Jibril Afyare, an IBM software programmer and chairman of the Somali Citizens League.
“Our focus right now is for the victims, but I’m really touched by how we all can come together as humans, and that really says a lot,” he said.