Here’s an update on yesterday’s explosion and fire in a Somali neighborhood of Minneapolis:
Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security are on the scene. Fire crews have begun to clear debris from the ruined building at 514 Cedar Avenue South.
Meanwhile, although the gas company had previously stated that there were no gas leaks in the area, investigators are said to consider a gas leak to be the most likely cause.
Earlier today, from the Strib:
On the investigatory front, officials were hoping to enter the building Thursday. The shell of a structure has yet to be cleared by inspectors as safe enough to enter. The chief said it could be days or weeks before a cause is determined.
Ahmed Muse, one of five owners of the Otonga grocery store, said he arrived at the store at 8 a.m. Wednesday. There was what he called “an electrical shock” in the building, and police were called. When he went outside to talk to the officers, an explosion erupted on the second floor, blowing out the windows and scattering glass on the street below.
The grocery served halal meats and was popular among the neighborhood’s many Somali-American residents. Muse said that it had been there since 1998 and that the building was in good shape and had been remodeled last year.
Concerning gas leaks, this is what KSTP-TV reported last night:
Officials said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire. CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Becca Virden said there were no natural gas leaks in the area. Fire officials tells KSTP reporter Jay Kolls the FBI and ATF are investigating.
But after DHS arrived and the investigators began to clear the rubble, the story changed. According to an updated version of the Strib report:
Investigators believe that the fire that tore through a three-story apartment building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on New Year’s Day was caused by a natural gas leak, according to sources familiar with the probe.
While no final determination has been made, a source close to the law enforcement investigation said that it is believed that the initial explosion occurred at the ground level of the building.
Homeland Security personnel were on the scene in the aftermath of the fire that sent 14 people to hospitals, six in critical condition.
They were there to determine if there was anything suspicious about the explosion. But investigators believe that the description of a fireball and early evidence at the scene match what typically happens in a gas explosion, investigators believe, the source said.
In addition to trying to determine the cause, authorities searched the late-1800s building for the handful of residents still unaccounted for a day later.
“Debris removal is beginning this morning,” Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said in a statement issued a couple of hours after daybreak. “Crews will be very cautious and deliberate as they go through the structure.”
This story still smells funny to me.
The photo at the top of this post is one of the earliest shots taken at the scene of the fire. The intense conflagration is obviously on the second floor, in the front of the building, just above the Otanga Grocery. There is almost no indication of flames behind the windows on the ground floor.
But I’m an amateur, so what do I know? Maybe the explosion on the first floor immediately sent flames up a ventilation shaft to the floor above, igniting a bathtub full of kerosene that just happened to be sitting there. Or something similar.
Since 9-11 I’ve been paying close attention to reports of explosions caused by gas leaks. In every case I can remember, the walls of the building exploded outwards, strewing rubble over a wide area.
But what do I know? Maybe the brick walls in this old (1886) building were stronger than in today’s buildings, and were able to contain the explosion within the structure…
In any case, I’ll continue to keep an eye on this story. Any interesting new developments will be posted here.