Victims of a building explosion in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood that killed three people on Jan. 1, 2014, are suing CenterPoint Energy and the building owner, claiming it could have been prevented.
The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in Hennepin County District Court this week, does not offer an exact cause for the explosion that injured 14 people, including six critically, in the predominantly Somali neighborhood.
Instead, the 12 victims argue that CenterPoint put its high pressure gas lines inside the apartment building, “which increases the likelihood of gas explosions.” The lawsuit also questions whether the company installed valves that would have prevented natural gas leaks.
The building owner, Garad Nor, also failed to provide working heat to several of the units, along with gas detectors, the suit alleged.
“There was uncontained natural gas escaping into the building,” said Aaron Eken, an attorney representing the victims. “Someone should have detected it.”
Nor could not be reached for comment.
CenterPoint declined to comment on a pending lawsuit, but in the past has denied that natural gas was responsible for the explosion. After it happened, CenterPoint spokeswoman Rebecca Virden told the Star Tribune “We had no natural gas in the area,” citing CenterPoint’s own investigation and testing.
If it were attributed to natural gas, Virden added, “the roof would come off, the walls would come out.”
She said that if there was a gas involved, “it could be a different type of gas.”
The state fire marshal concluded that the cause of the fire was undeterminable, but left open three hypotheses: A houseguest tried to operate a nonfunctioning gas heater; natural gas leaked somewhere else and met an ignition source near a 2nd-floor unit; or use of a bathroom cracked the freezing-cold sewer piping below the U-shaped toilet trap and freed methane gas.
A sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department has previously told the Star Tribune that foul play was not suspected, saying that investigators found no unusual chemical containers, fuses or switches in the wreckage.
Eken said his investigators did not examine whether foul play was involved after state and police authorities ruled it out.
Abdiqani Adan, Ahmed Ali and Mrimri Farah died from the explosion. Of the survivors, many suffered severe injuries such as burns, broken limbs and internal organ damage that required months of hospitalization.