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Family in Fargo blast homeless

FARGO, N.D. - A family of 13 injured in a home explosion last week in south Fargo is having difficulty finding a place to live and is seeking more community support.

"We need help," said Abdul Mohamed, a half-brother of the one blast victim who was still hospitalized Monday.

Luul Omar, 27, remained in a coma as she underwent surgeries Monday at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Mohamed said.

The Sept. 2 explosion leveled half of the twinhome at 2215 15th St. S. and displaced all 13 family members living in the two units.

Their future there may have been uncertain anyway, as the twinhome was in foreclosure and scheduled to be sold at a sheriff's sale Sept. 17. The sale has since been canceled.

Housing assistance provided by the Red Cross was set to expire Monday night, and the family can't afford to continue staying at a motel, Mohamed said. Family members who weren't hurt in the blast can't work because they have to take care of those who were injured, he said.

The family's large size makes it hard to find housing, he said, adding one apartment denied their application.

"We don't know what to do," he said.

Eight of the blast victims are Fargo public school students. A fund set up by the Fargo Public Schools Foundation had collected about $1,000 in donations as of Monday, and State Bank & Trust employees provided $1,500 through their "Pay It Forward" program, said foundation director Steven Backsen.

"Any support that the community could offer would be greatly appreciated," said Kate Syverson, a Fargo Public Schools social worker helping the family secure housing.

Gate City Bank also is accepting checks made out to the "Omar Family Relief Fund" at its North Dakota and Moorhead locations.

Destruction of the home and the family's belongings happened in an instant, but the investigation into the cause of the blast could take a while.

Investigators won't dig into the pile of rubble until they're able to notify all of the parties involved, said Gary Metz, claims manager for North Star Mutual Insurance Co., which insures the twinhome.

Those parties include manufacturers of appliances that were hooked up to natural gas lines in the home.

The notification is needed because of the potential for liability if someone is found at fault in the explosion, said Joe Locnikar, the Fargo Fire Department captain who investigated the blast.

"They won't move anything until they set up a date when everybody can be there," he said.

While a cause hasn't been determined, Locnikar has said he's "quite sure" it was a natural gas explosion, based on the damage and statements by the tenants that they had smelled gas in the home.

Luul Omar's brother Mohamed Omar has said the explosion happened as soon as she went to the basement to check on a gas smell. Locnikar said the gas could have been ignited by a light switch being flipped on.

Representatives from Xcel Energy, the North Dakota Public Service Commission and Cottonwood, Minn.-based North Star are investigating the cause. Metz said he has not received any reports yet.

Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer said the utility has 30 days to make a report to the federal Office of Pipeline Safety.

"It's not like anybody's stalling," he said. "That's how much time they have, and it's so sensitive because of the possible liability ramifications."

Cramer, Metz and Locnikar all said they were not aware the home was in foreclosure.

Leon Opdahl of Tri-County Insurance in West Fargo, which represents North Star, said the foreclosure wouldn't affect the investigation.

"It shouldn't have any bearing at all whatsoever, because it is insured and I know the premium has been paid for the full year," he said.

A public notice that ran in The Forum's legal section Sept. 1 listed a judgment of foreclosure of $114,711.93 against the building's owners, Randy Barnhard and Brenda and Andy Hardy.

Andy Hardy did not return a message left on his cell phone Monday. Barnhard does not have a listed local phone number.