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Published January 01, 2014, 11:04 AM

6 Critically Injured, Some Residents Unaccounted for after Mpls. Explosion

The Minneapolis Fire Chief confirms 13 people have been hospitalized, some with critical injuries. He said it's very difficult to fight the blaze because the bitter cold has turned the area into an ice rink.

By: Cassie Hart, KSTP-TV

Fourteen people have been hospitalized and three remain unaccounted for after a building explosion and fire in Minneapolis.

Fire crews responded to a report of an explosion around 8 a.m. Wednesday on the 500 block of Cedar Avenue.

A witness at the scene tells KSTP he heard an explosion and then saw the fire shortly after. Multiple victims were already outside when crews arrived, and flames were shooting about 20 feet out of the windows on the second and third floor, according to officials at the scene.

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel originally confirmed 13 people have been hospitalized, six with critical injuries. That number is now at 14. He said it was very difficult to fight the blaze because the bitter cold has turned the area into an ice rink.

Robert Ball of Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services says the victims have been taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falling or jumping from windows. He says it's unclear whether everyone has been evacuated because it's still too dangerous for firefighters to sweep through the premises.

KSTP Reporter Josh Rosenthal, who was at the scene, said the area has been "chaotic," with ambulances taking injured victims to nearby hospitals.

A woman who owns a nearby convenience store tells KSTP the building is a community center that contains apartments, a grocery store and mosque. The first floor is a commercial use area and the second and third floors are apartments.

Abdikadir Mohamed, whose uncle owns the grocery store, watched the scene in silence, struggling to put his thoughts into words. "This is bad," he said.

Fruetel says there are about 10 apartment units in the building, at least nine of which were occupied at the time. At this point it’s unclear if there are any victims still inside the building, Fruetel said.

The Brian Coyle Center was open for family and victims of the fire to re-unite and the center remains open. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are assisting victims.

The last inspection of the building was in 2012, and fire officials say there were no outstanding inspection issues for the building.

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.

“My heart goes out to the victims and families,” newly-elected Ward 6 Council Member Abdi Warsame said during the press conference. “It’s a tragic event.”

Gov. Mark Dayton also made a statement regarding the fire.

"On behalf of all Minnesotans, I extend my deepest sympathies to the victims of today's awful fire in Minneapolis and to their families and friends," he said. "We hope for your swift and complete recoveries. I also want to thank the State Troopers, Minneapolis Police Officers, firefighters, and other first responders who endangered themselves to save the lives of those engulfed by this terrible tragedy."

“We don’t know the reason or extent of the fire, but we know there are families and loved ones who need our prayers because this is obviously a very difficult and tragic event,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said during a press conference. “Firefighters and crews on the scene in this horrible cold deserve a great deal of gratitude for keeping this from being even worse.”