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Families Say 3 Still Unaccounted For After Apt. Fire

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(credit: CBS)

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[Gallery: Fire At Cedar Ave. Apartments]

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — A billowing fire engulfed a three-story building with several apartments in Minneapolis early New Year’s Day, sending 14 people to hospitals — including three who were critically hurt — with injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falls.

A few of the victims went to the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview, but most were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. Many suffered burns, broken bones or both, HCMC spokesperson Christine Hill said.

In an update sent at 9 p.m., HCMC officials say three people are in critical condition and six are in satisfactory condition.

Families on the scene said at least three people were still unaccounted for, according to WCCO’s Kate Raddatz.

No fatalities have been reported, but authorities weren’t sure whether any residents were still inside the building.

Fire crews responded to the blaze at 8:15 a.m. at 514 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis. A witness at the scene who saw it all unfold told WCCO-TV he saw an explosion in the building and at least three people jump or fall out of the windows of the three-story building.

“It’s not clear whether people were pushed out of the building from the explosion or whether they fell or jumped out of windows to escape,” Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services, said.

Authorities said many of the victims at the scene were already outside after escaping from the burning building. There were 10 units in the apartment complex, and nine of them were occupied at the time of the explosion.

Fire Chief John Fruetel said there is some confusion as to just how many people were inside at the time of the fire.

“We got some dots we’re trying to connect for anyone who may have been in the building. That’s the challenging part, who lived in the building, who may have had visitors, who were home, who were not home,” he said.

Abdikadir Mohamed, whose uncle owns a nearby grocery store, watched the scene in silence, struggling to put his thoughts into words.

“This is bad,” he said.

Fire officials said at least 50 firefighters are on the scene battling the blaze. It was a three-alarm fire. Fire crews could not enter the building, as the second and third floors reportedly collapsed.

Outdoor conditions were tough for firefighters. As firefighters aimed their hoses at the flames, water gushed from windows and doorways, forming icicles on window frames and leaving the street slick and icy. The facade of the building and trees out front were also coated with a layer of ice.

Fire officials appeared to get the fire under control about 11:30 a.m. Firefighters who had been aiming a hose at the flames from a truck-mounted crane shut off their water, and with smoke still billowing from the roof, other investigators began to approach the front door.

The building was a total loss. The Minneapolis Fire Department said the building had last been inspected in 2012. There were no outstanding inspection issues for the structure.

A decision will be made on Thursday whether the building will need to be torn down completely.

Victims and family members were reunited at the Brian Coyle Center. The Red Cross was offering three days shelter for victims, and the city of Minneapolis is trying to figure out a longer term solution.

Fire officials said the cause of the explosion and fire is still under investigation. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it was monitoring the fire in case the mosque nearby was targeted, said MN-CAIR board member Zuhar Ahmed.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is in his last day in office, told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about the fire.

“I’m also deeply grateful for the firefighters and other crews who came out here and kept it from getting worse,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rybak said several families had multiple victims involved in the fire, and said it was tragic to think that people who have already been through so much had to suffer more. Rybak begged for people to donate to relief efforts.

“People who live in this part of the city often have been through horrendous things, they come here for peace and for safety,” he said. “And it’s especially tragic to think that people who’ve come through so much, now have to go through more.”

Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges said it’s a difficult day for everyone in the city.

“It’s clearly a tragic morning for the City of Minneapolis. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody affected by this fire,” Hodges said.

Those looking to help the victims of the fire can send donations to the Minneapolis Red Cross.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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