By Matt Pearce
5:03 PM PST, January 1, 2014
Fourteen people were hurt, at least three critically, when an explosion and fire rocked a three-story apartment building in Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, forcing residents to jump from windows and flee into subzero temperatures.
The explosion in the largely Somali American neighborhood was first reported at 8:16 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived, smoke and 20-foot flames were pouring out of the second and third stories of the building, officials said.
"People are jumping out of the windows now," one fire official radioed. Another added, "We’ve got injured civilians out in the street."
Minneapolis Fire Department officials said in a statement that they were "unable to determine [whether] everyone made it out of the building and is accounted for."
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Local television footage showed firefighters helping carry several under-dressed residents from the blaze. Some people tenuously climbed down fire ladders as the blaze raged around them.
Firefighters attempted to fight the fire on the first floor, but were forced to pull back and attack the fire from outside, officials said.
"It is brutal; it is tough on the firefighters right now," Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters as firefighters continued to battle the blaze hours after it began. "Imagine standing in the water. It is very, very cold."
The blaze was extinguished by the afternoon, but part of the building, now sheathed in an armor of ice, had collapsed, sending ripples of worry through the Somali community because some residents were reportedly missing.
Below the building's apartments, on the first floor, was a popular grocery store. Ahmed Muse, one of the store's owners, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that there was an "electrical shock" in the building shortly after he arrived at 8 a.m.
The police were summoned, and while Muse was talking to them outside, there was an explosion on the second floor of the building, he told the Star-Tribune.
One of the residents, Ismail Adan, 34, who was away from the building when the fire began, told the newspaper that the apartments were occupied by single men.
"I am grateful I have my jacket," he said. "I lost everything."
Ten victims, all adults, were taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center, with three in critical condition, a spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.
Fire officials said three more victims were taken to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, where a hospital spokeswoman refused to confirm whether the patients had arrived or to give an update on their conditions.
The fire department did not know their conditions, and said in a statement that an additional fire victim, whose condition was also unknown, was taken to an unknown hospital.
The building was last inspected in 2012, and had "no outstanding inspection issues" when the fire broke out, department officials said.
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