MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minneapolis Fire Department says five people are dead and another three are hospitalized after fire broke out at a 24-story high rise overnight in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Fire crews extinguished the three-alarm fire, which happened on the 600 block of Cedar Avenue South, in approximately 30 minutes. It was reported at about 4 a.m. inside a public housing building owned by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. The fire broke out on the 14th floor of the 191-unit structure.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office released the names of four of the five victims early Wednesday evening, all cited as dying from smoke inhalation:
- Amatalah Adam, 78
- Maryan Mohamed Mohamud, 69
- Nadifa Mohamud, 67
- Jerome Stuart, 59
“We don’t know what the cause of the fire was and why it unfolded beyond one apartment which was very unusual in our buildings,” said Jeff Horwich, director of policy and external affairs with the MPHA. “They are made of concrete so fires do not tend to spread in that way so we will have to learn about why that was.”
Fire Chief John Fruetel says the 14th floor was heavily damaged, and that most of the units there are probably going to be deemed uninhabitable.
“This is a 24-story building, so when crews arrived on 15, they had to search 10 more floors in addition to the floors that were involved in the fire,” Fruetel said.
The department reported that crews evacuated a number occupants out of the building through the stairwell. The department said that a resident on the 21st floor initially refused to evacuate.
Crews said that four of the people killed were found on the 14th floor and were pronounced dead on the scene. The fifth victim was located in the stairway and was taken to a hospital, where they later died.
One firefighter was taken to the hospital for an evaluation and was later released.
Mohamud Farah’s 80-year-old uncle, Salad Samatar, or “Gabobe,” is among those rushed to Hennepin Healthcare. Family members rushed there, too, where they learned he’s in critical condition, suffering severe smoke inhalation.
“They told us he didn’t get oxygen. He didn’t get burned, but the reason is the oxygen, he couldn’t get, he couldn’t breathe,” Farah said.
Muna Kulmiye’s aunt was also taken to the hospital. She was treated and released, but the emotional scars remain.
“She said she only noticed smoke coming into the door, and once she opened the door she couldn’t see anything,” Kulmiye said.
For other displaced residents, the Red Cross set up an emergency feeding station in the building’s commons. Mubarak Mohamad says he is among the lucky ones. He had to carry his 85-year-old uncle down the stairs to safety.
For his family and others, the day before Thanksgiving quickly turned into a day of anguish. State Rep. Mohamud Noor was one of many trying to provide answers amidst a day full of questions.
“For something like this to happen on a day like this, it’s really tragic,” Noor said. “This is a close-knit community, well connected, we know each other. So whenever a tragic incident like this happens, it touches all of us.”
The community is made up of seniors and people with disabilities. Many are immigrants from East Africa and Korea, and most live alone. Abdirizak Bihi helps with social services, and says two of the victims who are Somali elders.
“It’s very sad. People you know, people that you work with them on a daily basis, people you provide help every day,” Bihi said.
Chief Fruetel says the fire was burning for a while before they got on scene. They say it appears to have been an accident. They are looking for a cause, but the effect is clear.
“The community is resilient. We will overcome, but I’m sending my prayers to everyone who has been impacted by this, and those who have been injured, we’re praying for our quick recovery,” Noor said.
Several of the people today said Wednesday’s fire brought back memories of another fatal fire on New Year’s Day in the same neighborhood, were several people were killed.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey released this statement late Wednesday afternoon: “I’m keeping the residents, families, and friends close in my thoughts who woke up to the news of a devastating tragedy. All of Minneapolis is grateful to our firefighters who rushed toward danger and responded with courage to an incredibly challenging set of circumstances.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar also issued a statement: “Heart-breaking loss today in Minneapolis. My deepest sympathy to those families who lost loved ones in this fire and my thoughts are with those recovering. Thank you for the swift and heroic action by firefighters and first responders who saved lives.”
In the wake of this tragedy, a community meeting will be held at the Brian Coyle Community Center on Friday. Residents will be able to talk about what comes next and how they can help the families of those victims.
The Red Cross is actively working to support those impacted. To learn more about how you can help click here.