Body recovered from rubble of Cedar-Riverside explosion, fire

Unidentified victim has been found in the rubble of New Year’s’s Day fire.

A body was recovered Thursday afternoon from the wreckage of the three-story Minneapolis apartment building destroyed by a New Year’s Day explosion, fire officials confirmed.

“At approximately 1:55 p.m. Minneapolis Fire Department officials confirmed that one body was discovered in the structure at 516 Cedar Ave. S.,” said a statement by Assistant Fire Chief Chérie A. Penn.

Penn said the victim has been turned over to the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. She said crews will continue to remove debris until dark and will resume their work Friday morning.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the Minneapolis fire chief said the fire in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood was most likely caused by a natural gas leak.

At least 14 people were injured, six critically in the explosion and fire Wednesday that destroyed an immigrant-owned grocery store and the apartments above it. Two people were not accounted for.

Family members identified them as Mrimri Farah, said to be about 60 years old, and Ahmad Ali, 57. Ali’s ex-wife Hawo Daqare said they divorced in 2006 but continued to share parenting of their son. “I feel very bad but I cannot do anything. Imagine if you lost someone.”

She said Ali lived in Apartment No. 6 on the second floor.

Fire Chief John Fruetel said Thursday afternoon that witness accounts of a natural gas smell and the explosion strongly suggest that gas was involved.

Fruetel added that the fire began either on the second floor or third floor.

But Fruetel also said that investigators are not certain what caused the fire and they may never be certain. He said four or five investigators have been on the site around the clock, looking for evidence such as debris patterns.

A spokeswoman for the natural gas utility CenterPoint Energy strongly discounted natural gas as a likely cause.

“We had no natural gas in the area,” said Rebecca Virden, basing her information on CenterPoint’s own investigation and testing in the area.

If it were attributed to natural gas, Virden added, “the roof would come off, the walls would come out.”

She offered that if there was a gas involved, “it could be a different type of gas.”

Asked about CenterPoint’s denial, Fruetel said, “I’m just basing it on what my investigators say.”

He said officials haven’t determined it was natural gas, but said that is what they’re focused on.

The chief called the scene an active investigation that has early on ruled out any signs of an explosive device. Homeland Security personnel were on the scene in the aftermath of the fire that sent 14 people to hospitals, six in critical condition.

In addition to trying to determine the cause, authorities searched the late-1800s building for two residents still unaccounted for a day later.

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