Adan said the Red Cross gave him $290 for food and clothing and is helping him find another place to stay. “I am grateful I have my jacket,” he said. “I lost everything.”
Mohamed Jama said he was in bed in one of the nearby towers when the fire alarm went off. He said he saw a man and a woman jump from windows in the burning building, and saw another man pushed out a window by the force of the fire.
An ambulance took two of the men away, and Jama said one of the men had severe burns on his abdomen. Jama and three other people moved the injured woman from the sidewalk in front of the building to a place across the street. The woman was speaking rapidly in Somali and said her neck hurt and she was unable to move her leg.
“We went to the scene, and it was unbelievable,” Jama said. “This generation in Cedar-Riverside has never seen something like this.”
Ahmed Muse, one of five owners of the Otanga grocery store, said he arrived at the store at 8 a.m. Wednesday. There was what he called “an electrical shock” in the building, and police were called. When he went outside to talk to the officers, an explosion erupted on the second floor, blowing out the windows and scattering glass on the street below.
At the fire’s peak, flames were shooting 20 feet from the building, officials said.
“These are very treacherous conditions,” Fruetel said earlier in the day, citing the below-zero temperatures. No firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, he said.
The grocery served halal meats and was popular among the neighborhood’s many Somali-American residents. Muse said that it had been there since 1998 and that the building was in good shape and had been remodeled last year.
“Eighty percent of the neighborhood uses that grocery store, and they lost everything,” Jama said.
Records show the building was built in 1886 and is permitted for 10 resident rooms. Fruetel said nine of those rooms were occupied. The building is managed by Wadani Properties of Minneapolis, which is owned by Garad Nor.
Nor hurried to the scene after the fire started, then went to check on victims at the hospital. He said he has owned the building since 2005 and did not know the fire’s cause.
“This is a disaster,” Nor said. “I’m very sorry for this.”
For almost three years, from 1969 to 1972, the building was home to the legendary Electric Fetus, an indie record shop. Later, Evenstar Bookstore, which specializes in metaphysical subjects, moved into the site before relocating in the mid-1990s to University Avenue in St. Paul.
Kamaro Ali’s Wajadir Grocery & Halal meat is across the street from Otanga grocery. “We have to help each other. If I needed help, they’d help me,” she said.
Help for victims
At the news conference, Council Member-elect Abdi Warsame thanked police and firefighters.
“There is no better cause or greater calling than saving human lives, and today they saved a great deal of human life,” he said.