Minneapolis firefighters have found a second body in the ruins of the three story apartment building which exploded and then burned on New Year’s Day. In addition to the two dead, 14 people were wounded in the explosion. With the discovery of the second fatality, officials believe that all victims have been located.
As of Friday, nine people remained in the hospital. Three of them are listed in critical condition.
According to Minneapolis fire officials, the explosion was reported at approximately 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday. A massive fire engulfed the 10-unit apartment building/grocery store within minutes. When paramedics arrived at the scene, they discovered many victims on the ground in the below-zero temperatures, a good portion of which had injuries that would occur if one jumped or fell from several stories up.
Fire investigators believe that the explosion could have been caused by natural gas, basing their opinion on the debris field and on reports by witnesses that the odor of natural gas was present before the explosion. They caution, however, that the exact reason for the explosion may never be found. At this point, they believe that the fire started on one of the upper two levels of the building.
Spokesperson Becca Virden of CenterPoint Energy reports that their system showed no leaks and that they had not received any reports of an odor before the explosion. The building had last been expected in 2012. No outstanding violations were reported.
The building is located on Cedar Avenue in the center of a large Somali community that lies close to downtown Minneapolis and is adjacent to a mosque. Although the mosque did sustain smoke and water damage, the FBI reports no evidence that the explosion and fire were in any way related to terrorism.
As firefighters in Minneapolis continued their search for the second missing victim in the ruins of the exploded apartment building, survivors spoke out this week, relating their experiences after the explosion. One man jumped two stories to the ground in only his underwear. He reportedly lay on the frozen ground for 20 minutes before receiving medical care for his injured leg.
Another resident reports being able to grab some clothes on his way out of his apartment, but finding the stairs engulfed in flames. Returning to his apartment, he ran to the window where a police officer urged him to jump the two stories to the ground. He broke both of his legs and hurt his back in the fall. Another jumper who also broke his leg suffered from frostbite from lying on the frozen terrain.
As of Friday one of the dead has been identified by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. The body of Ahmed Farah Ali, 57, who lived in the apartment building, was found on Thursday. Ali was married and had four children from prior marriages. He was well-known in the Cedar-Riverside community.
Officials reported two missing people before finding Ali’s body in the rubble of the building on Thursday. In addition, one victim currently being treated at the hospital remains unidentified. According to the ex-wife of Ali, their son and a visiting friend remain missing. It remains to be seen whether her son and the family friend represent the second victim and the hospitalized person. Personal documents of both have been delivered to the police to aid in possible identification.
After finding the second body in the apartment building ruins, Minneapolis firefighters began the demolition of the structure, whose roof and floors collapsed in the explosion. As of 2:00 p.m. on Friday, the building had been demolished. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army are providing assistance to victims of the tragedy.
By Jennifer Pfalz
The Kansas City Star