From behind the counter of Afrik Grocery, manager Mohamed Elmi sees customers grieving over the Wednesday blaze that killed five people and injured four in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Some claim they heard an alarm go off; others say they didn’t hear it. One patron in a turquoise scarf noted that there is still smoke at Cedar High Apartments, where the fire happened.
“Some of them are still traumatized and they don’t talk,” Elmi said of his clientele. “They are in shock.”
Members of the East African community are reeling from the fire in the 25-story apartment tower at 630 Cedar St., vowing to help one another through their grief and demanding action to prevent more fire deaths. Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Brian Tyner said that although the investigation of the area was complete, a specific cause was not likely to be released before Monday. Authorities have said the fire was likely accidental.
Three of the five dead were Somali-Americans: Nadifa Mohamud, 67, Amatalah Adam, 79, and Maryan Mohamud, 69. The fourth victim was Jerome Stuart, 59, and authorities identified Tyler Scott Baron, 32, as the fifth victim on Thursday.
At least one of the injured, Salad Samatar, remained in critical condition Friday at HCMC.
More than two dozen people attended a forum at Brian Coyle Neighborhood Center to hear from community leaders on Friday afternoon, where they said the trauma from the fire will be difficult to heal and requested mental health resources to help them cope.
Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said he plans to introduce legislation that would require sprinklers in each unit of public housing buildings.
Older buildings exempt from sprinkler requirements would need retrofitting.
“It should not take a tragedy like this one for us to start changing the laws. ... We have lost five lives,” Noor said. “No matter what others will say about this sprinkler requirement for housing, we will get it done and I will keep on fighting for those individuals.”
Noor praised the resilience of the community, adding, “We will make sure we all recover from this incident.”
The 50-year-old building has smoke alarms but no sprinklers, only “partial sprinkler coverage” on the main floor and lower mechanical equipment rooms.
The building is managed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which acknowledged the need to upgrade the sprinkler system in its high-rise buildings earlier this year.
The agency has 42 high-rises, 40 of which were built in the 1960s and early 1970s, before the state updated its building code to require sprinkler protection in such buildings.
In an annual report approved in September, which it must then submit to HUD for approval, the authority identified $152 million in “immediate capital needs,” including $69 million that it required for “mechanical systems (includes plumbing & fire).”
“Additionally, as building codes have evolved, we need to address increased life/safety requirements such as retrofitting our high rise buildings with sprinkler systems,” the report said.
Abdisalam Mohamed, whose mother, Nadifa Mohamud, died in the fire, said afterward that he supported Noor’s proposal.
“The sooner the better,” said Mohamed, who believes his mother’s death could have been prevented.
Fartun Abdulle was raised by Nadifa Mohamud after her own mother died when Abdulle was 5 years old. On Friday, Abdulle contemplated ways her aunt’s death could have been prevented.
“I wish we didn’t have her live by herself,” said Abdulle, whose eyes were puffy and red from crying. “We should have died together.”
Leaders at Dar Al-Hijrah on Cedar Avenue have helped victims’ families deal with questions of burying the dead and offered counseling.
“Faith is part of living with trauma and hardship, so we are there to provide that as much as possible,” said Abdisalam Adam, board member and assistant imam at the mosque, at the meeting.
Mahod Jama, 15, was one of the first to arrive at the Coyle center. He recounted how his grandfather, who uses a wheelchair, relied on a neighbor to carry him to safety.
His aunt, meanwhile, smashed a window in her apartment and held her head out to breathe after finding it too hard to see through the smoke in the hallway to escape.
She had to block the bottom of her door to keep more fumes out, he said.
The South High School sophomore said it’s important for people to know how to escape fires.
He also wants such buildings to be more regularly inspected.
Apartment building resident Abdi Mohamed, 89, said that people in the complex didn’t sleep last night, worried what would happen next.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, said she was “devastated by the terrible tragedy in Cedar-Riverside.”
“My heart aches for the victims and their loved ones. I grew up in this neighborhood and have close personal relationships with many of those directly affected,” she said. “We will be working directly with the federal agencies involved in the coming weeks to make sure that there is accountability for the victims and families affected as well as ensuring that this never happens again, not only in Minnesota, but across the U.S.”
An online fundraiser on the victims’ behalf raised more than $65,000 as of Friday afternoon. Community leaders are also collecting gently used socks, blankets and outdoor wear for the fire victims.
Donations will be collected 12-4 p.m. Sunday at Brian Coyle Community Center, 420 S. 15th Av., Minneapolis.