Authorities: body found after Cedar-Riverside fire; gas seen as possible cause

Covering area with a tarp
Crews investigate the scene of yesterday's fire in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Jan 2, 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

One person remains missing after a building fire and explosion in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, officials said Thursday.

Photos: Cleanup, investigation continue
Dar Al-Hijrah mosque closes after fire next door
Previously: Explosion, fire rock neighborhood
Photos: Firefighters worked in brutal conditions

Early reports had four people missing. The Minneapolis Fire Department confirmed early in the afternoon that two remain unaccounted for, though by late afternoon, the department said a body had been removed from the debris.

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said he was leaning toward a gas explosion as the cause of the fire, but that authorities were still investigating.

The fire department does not believe the explosion was intentional, he told reporters. At least 14 people were injured; 3 remained in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Hodges, Fruetel and Rybak
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel talked on Jan. 1, 2013, about the explosion and fire in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood. He was joined by Minneapolis mayor elect Betsy Hodges, at left, mayor R.T. Rybak, right.
Tim Nelson/MPR News

The body removed from the debris was not immediately identified.

Earlier in the day, family members said Mrimri Jama Farah, 60, and Ahmed Farah Ali, 57, were the community members still unaccounted for.

"We're directing people to pray with and for one another, prayers of good wishes and healing," said Abdisalam Adam, board member of masjid Dar Al-Hijrah, the mosque adjacent to the damaged apartment building.

"Right now, our main concern is the people missing, and the injured people to be attended to," Adam said earlier in the day.

The families of Farah and his friend, Ali, have yet to locate the men.

Ice-encrusted building
Firefighters were still pouring water on the burned-out shell of the building in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis in the late afternoon of Jan. 1, 2014, about eight hours after an explosion ripped through the building and touched off a three-alarm fire.
Hart Van Denburg/MPR News

Hawo Daqare, Ali's ex-wife and mother of his 9-year-old son, says the family is heartsick with uncertainty.

"We don't know if he's dead or alive," said Daqare, who said she waited for word about her ex-husband at HCMC until 11 p.m. Wednesday. "It's so sad."

Hussein Ahmed, director of the West Bank Community Coalition, said loved ones who came to the Brian Coyle Center Wednesday night reported the individuals missing.

There have been some complications in trying to locate the victims at local hospitals because many Somalis go by variations of their legal names -- or completely different names, said community organizer Salma Hussein.

"In my community, people have several names, so I saw a lot of Facebook statuses of relatives going to the hospitals hoping to visit their relatives, but they didn't have their legal names," she said. "That serves as a challenge as folks try to determine who is accounted for and who is still missing."

Hussein and other community members have been gathering and delivering clothing to set aside for the victims of the fire.

Bags of donated clothes and winter jackets are already piled in a storage room at the Brian Coyle Center. More arrived throughout the afternoon.

The Red Cross and Pillsbury United Communities, which runs the community center, are taking donations through their websites. A fund for victims has been established by the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota at Wells Fargo Bank.

The Cedar Cultural Center and neighborhood activists are organizing a benefit for West Bank fire victims on Jan. 24.

"The response has been tremendous," Ahmed said.

"There's been a lot of sympathy and help from all members of the community, all walks of life," he said.

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES

The building housed a grocery and apartments. The cause of the explosion and three-alarm fire remains under investigation.

While a gas leak could be one potential cause, it could be weeks until a cause is determined, if it's determined at all, the fire department said late Thursday.

Centerpoint Energy officials said Thursday that the company's detection equipment gave no indication of a gas leak in the area.

As shocking as the fire was, it's fortunate it didn't affect the nearby Riverside Plaza towers where thousands of people live, said newly elected City Council member Abdi Warsame.

"It could have been a much worse situation. It was basically isolated to that part of the area, and it didn't affect the Riverside housing complex," he said. "When I first heard there was a fire and explosion I naturally thought it was the towers, and thank God that wasn't the case."

City officials said the building was inspected in 2010 and again in 2012 and that no problems were cited.

MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik contributed to this story

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