MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Fire department officials say that a body has been pulled from the Minneapolis apartment building that went up in flames on New Year’s Day after an explosion.
A press release Thursday afternoon said the body will be sent to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office. The body has not been identified.
Earlier on Thursday, authorities said their investigation into the cause of the Cedar Avenue apartment fire is focusing on the possibility it was caused by a natural gas leak. Officials announced the preliminary findings at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
During the press conference, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said that a number of witnesses reported a smell. He said the debris field from the blast also points to a gas explosion.
Currently, two people who were in the building at the time of the explosion are still unaccounted for — they have been identified as Ahmed Ali and Farah Jama.
Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said crews will be cautious and deliberate as they go through the three-story building.
Minneapolis Police said the apartment building would likely be the only one that would need to be razed. The nearby mosque would most likely remain.
“This is clearly still a situation that we’re doing our best to handle safely,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said. “We know this is an agonizing time.”
Minneapolis City Council member-elect Abdi Warsame, representing the city’s sixth ward, added, “This is a Minneapolis tragedy, this is a Minnesota tragedy. This is not just an East Africans’ tragedy, this is not just a Cedar-Riverside tragedy.”
Firefighters arrived to a chaotic scene on Cedar Avenue Wednesday. Victims who jumped to safety were laying in the street, and others waited for help in smoke-filled windows.
Authorities said 14 people are hurt, six critically. It was a very tough scene for firefighters working in this bitter cold and people in the street looking on in shock.
“I seen smoke and the smoke was billowing up so fast flames were going 20 feet into the air,” said Daud Mohamed, a neighbor who lives in the area.
It’s unclear what caused the fire and how many others who live in the building are unaccounted for, but family of residents at the complex said three people are missing from family and friends of other victims. The building held a grocery store that was like a community center on the first floor, it was also connected to Mosque for the neighborhood.
Ten apartment units were on the second and third floor. The Minneapolis Fire Chief said even though many will be wanting to know the cause of this fire immediately, it may take a little bit to figure out what happened.
“You’re going to have to have some patience with us, it’s going to take law enforcement and arson investigators some time. It’s going to be a very difficult investigation. We’re going to determine the cause and origin, so it’s going to take us some time,” said Chief John Fruetel.
Firefighters inspected the building in 2012 and issued a clean bill with no problems. The focus now is figuring out who the victims are. Fruetel said there is some confusion as to who was in the building or lived there. He said they’ve got some work to do figuring out who lived in the building, who may have had visitors, who were home and who were not home.
Brian Coyle Center Director Amano Dube said it would be a long road to recovery for victims, to be measured in not weeks or months but in years. But the community has been banding together.
The Minneapolis Red Cross is accepting donations from anyone wishing to assist in relief efforts. A fund has also been set up for fire victims at any Wells Fargo bank.
Officers are meeting with families to gather information, and several people don’t speak English so interpreters are needed.