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Second body found in ruins of building

Minneapolis Fire Department personnel halted demolition and held tarps up after investigators located a body Thursday in the ruins of a grocery store and apartment building, one day after an explosion and fire destroyed the structure. Another body was found Friday in the ruins of the building. (JEAN PIERL/ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS)

By MARINO ECCHER, St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Abdi Qobey was sitting in bed watching television early on New Year’s Day when he heard the “boom.” The walls of his Minneapolis apartment buckled and crumbled around him, and the only illumination in the hallway outside his apartment came from the light of flames.

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Within moments, the building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood filled with black smoke. A police officer outside his second-story window beckoned him to jump. Qobey figured he didn’t have much choice.

“I see the smoke, I see already I’m going to suffocate if I stay one more minute,” he said. “I knew that if I stay, I’m not going to stay alive.”

The 60-year-old resident of the apartment building, destroyed by the explosion and fire around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, spoke Friday from a hospital bed in the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

He suffered fractures in both legs and a back injury when he jumped from the window, but said he was glad to be alive.

Qobey, originally from Somalia and a resident of the building for seven or eight years, was one of 14 people hospitalized after the blast tore through the three-story brick building, which also housed a first-floor grocery store.

Nine people were still hospitalized Friday, including three in critical condition.

Two people had been reported as missing in the hours after the disaster; they were identified by friends and family as Ahmed Ali, 57, and Mrimri Farah, who is around 60.

Firefighters discovered one body Thursday, and on Friday afternoon, authorities said it was that of Ali.

The remains of a second victim were found about 10 a.m. Friday. The body was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office for identification.

Minneapolis Fire Department officials said they believed the two bodies recovered were the only fatalities in the three-alarm conflagration, which investigators suspect was caused by a natural gas explosion. Assistant Chief Cherie Penn said the department believes it has accounted for everyone who was in the building.

On Friday, the Pioneer Press reported that another person, Ali’s 9-year-old son, was also believed to be missing, according to his mother, Hawo Daqare, who is Ali’s ex-wife. However, it later became clear that the boy was not missing.

Some of those who escaped the fire had burn injuries. Others, like Qobey, had leg and back injuries from jumping to safety.

That was the case for 29-year-old Hersi Hassan, who lived on the second floor with his two sisters. In a Friday interview at HCMC, Hassan said he awoke Wednesday to commotion and smelled smoke.

He opened the door and found the hallway impassable, so he and his sisters went to the window and decided to jump. They were scared, he said.

He broke a leg and hurt his back. His sisters each broke both legs. They lost everything, he said.

“I don’t have a place to sleep. I don’t have money. I don’t have a job,” Hassan said. “That’s why I’m scared.”

He is a Somali immigrant, like most of the residents in the building in the heart of Minneapolis’ East African community.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.