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At least 14 injured in blast, fire in Minneapolis apartment building

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Posted at 8:23 AM, Jan 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-01 12:00:43-05
By Chuck Johnston and Josh Levs

CNN

(CNN) — An explosion and fire at an apartment building in Minneapolis Wednesday left at least 14 people hospitalized, six critically, fire officials said.

Freezing weather conspired with heavy flames to hamper efforts to rescue victims and fight the fire, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said.

“Firefighters in Minneapolis are used to tough weather in the winter,” he said. “Ice and water don’t mix well. Certainly we are concerned about the condition of firefighters and are monitoring that. Frostbite can happen very quickly, so we are rotating in personnel as needed.”

At the time, the temperature at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, about five miles from fire, was minus 4 degrees F, with a wind chill of minus 18 degrees F, authorities said. Earlier Wednesday morning, wind chills were as low as minus 24 F. At the fire scene, the streets were flooded and frozen over at the same time. Bright flames shot up from a frozen gray landscape.

Most of the injuries are from burns and the “trauma of people that came out through the windows,” said Robert Ball, a spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services. Officials don’t know whether people jumped out, fell or were pushed out by the explosion.

One image from CNN affiliate WCCO showed a badly burned man being lifted out of a window.

In a statement, Governor Mark Dayton said: “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. We hope and pray 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.”

The three-story building was destroyed, with the roof and the second and third floors collapsing, Fruetel said.

The first floor contained a business; above it were 10 residential units, nine of which “would have been occupied at the time,” he said.

Authorities did not know immediately how many people live in those units.

Hours after the incident, firefighters were still working to contain the blaze. They tried to enter the building but were able to get in only a little way.

The weather is dangerous for firefighters, since water used to try to put out the flames quickly turns to ice, Ball said.

A mosque is located near the building. It was not immediately known whether it suffered damage.

It will be “some time” before officials can determine the cause of the fire, Fruetel said.

CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield and Kara Devlin contributed to this report.

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