Saturday 14 December 2019

Five killed in tower block fire in Minneapolis

Three others were hurt when the blaze broke out on the 14th floor.

Minneapolis firefighters leave after a deadly fire at a high-rise apartment building (Star Tribune/AP)
Minneapolis firefighters leave after a deadly fire at a high-rise apartment building (Star Tribune/AP)

By Amy Forliti and Jeff Baenen

Five people have died and three others were injured after a fire broke out on the 14th floor of a public housing high-rise in Minneapolis.

While the cause of the blaze at Cedar High Apartments is still under investigation, fire chief John Fruetel told reporters that investigators believe the fire was an accident.

The building is in part of Minneapolis known as Little Mogadishu for the many Somali immigrants who have settled there.

Mr Fruetel said the fire had been burning for a while and had blown out windows by the time firefighters arrived.

A fire alarm was sounding throughout the building, and from a distance, flames could be seen extending 10 to 15 feet from windows on the 14th floor.

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A woman waits as residents are evacuated after a fire swept through a high-rise apartment building (Star Tribune/AP)

With those open windows and winds whipping in from an overnight wintry storm, the scene was “an extreme environment of heat and wind-driven fire”, he said.

“I can’t express more about how precarious that scenario was to those firefighters,” Mr Fruetel said.

“They encountered a lot of heat … It was very similar to a blast furnace.”

The chief called it “a very chaotic scenario,” and said firefighters had to climb multiple flights of stairs while people were coming down. He said residents on floors above the fire were told to shelter in place.

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Residents were evacuated after the blaze broke out (Star Tribune/AP)

Abdi Warsame, a city council member who toured the floor that burned, expressed amazement that more people were not killed. The 25-storey building caters to seniors and single people.

“It was absolutely gutted,” said Mr Warsame, who is Somali-American. “It was horrendous.”

Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office identified four of the five people who died: Amatalah Adam, 78; Maryan Mohamud, 69; Nadifa Mohamud, 67, all women; and a man, Jerome Stuart, 59.

All four died of smoke inhalation at the scene, the medical examiner’s office said. The name of the fifth victim was not released, but authorities said all the people who died were adults.

Three other people were injured and are being treated at local hospitals. Authorities have not released details of their conditions. A firefighter was treated for an exertion-related injury.

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