Blast and blaze at grocery with apartments upstairs left 14 hurt, six critically.
In the subzero stillness of New Year’s Day morning, an explosion and fire tore through a century-old building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, injuring at least 14 people — six critically — and destroying an immigrant-owned grocery store and the 10 apartments above it.
Family members and friends reported that three or four others known to have lived in the apartments have not been located and are feared dead.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said authorities don’t know if all the residents are accounted for. Some made it out on their own, some had to be rescued with ladders and witnesses said others jumped from second- and third-floor windows.
Firefighters and investigators haven’t been able to enter the building and likely won’t until at least Thursday. Building inspectors were at the scene to assess the building’s condition and determine whether it’s safe to enter, Fruetel said.
It could be days or weeks before a cause is determined, he said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The building is a total loss. By midafternoon, burned rafters, still billowing smoke, hung like wooden pickup sticks in the shell of the brick building. The second and third floors had collapsed. More than eight hours after the first report at 8:16 a.m., firefighters still directed two hoses full-force through what was once the roof of the building. Fruetel said crews would be at the scene well into the evening.
The building housed the Otanga grocery store. The apartments above it were apparently all occupied by single men, most of them East African immigrants, a resident said.
Seeking friends, information
Dozens of neighbors, many who live in the Cedar-Riverside towers behind the burned building, crowded into the Brian Coyle Community Center nearby with fire, police and city officials, as well as reporters and camera crews, seeking information.
Omar Hassan approached police Inspector Medaria Arradondo after the news conference. His friend Ahmed Farah Ali lived in the building and hasn’t been found. Neither Ali nor his roommate was answering their cellphone. His uncle in Connecticut hadn’t heard from him, and he wasn’t at Hennepin County Medical Center, where some victims were taken, Hassan said.
No one by that name had been admitted to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, on Riverside Avenue S., or North Memorial Medical Center, either.
Abdifatah Ahmed, who works at a nearby pharmacy, watched from his Riverside Plaza apartment as the fire burned below.
“You know how lava comes out of a volcano? It was literally spewing out just like that,” he said. “It just kept on developing all over the building. … The fire and smoke were taking over the whole entire sky.”
Residents from other buildings were watching from nearby sidewalks. Fire officials cordoned off the area at 6th Street and Cedar Avenue S. Streets were slicked with ice from the water used on the fire.
Ismail Adan, 34, a truck driver, has lived in the building since 2002. He said his mother had called him early in the morning and he left to visit her, but a cousin who was staying with him was in the third-floor apartment when the explosion occurred. He said the cousin jumped out of the building and was injured, but he has spoken with him by phone in the hospital.
“He’s OK. It’s not very serious,” Adan said.