Minneapolis school building collapses; rescuers search for victims

Posted at 12:30 PM, Aug 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-02 15:31:57-04

Two people were unaccounted for and nine were hospitalized Wednesday after a natural gas explosion shook Minnehaha Academy and collapsed part of a building, officials in Minneapolis said.

One witness said two men yelled “gas!” shortly before the blast.

Fire crews were searching for possible victims in the debris at the private school, officials said. Minnehaha Academy said all of its summer-program students and staff were accounted for and safe. An individual believed to be missing was later found outside the area, officials said.

Three of the hospitalized were in critical condition and four were in serious condition, said Dr. James Miner of Hennepin County Medical Center. All are adults. The patients had fractures and head injuries, but no burns, he told reporters.

The Minneapolis Fire Department initially said one person was killed. But it later tweeted the death was not confirmed.

Authorities said early indications are the blast may have been caused by a ruptured gas line. The circumstances were not immediately known.

Becca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy, said crews were called to the area of a school boiler room to assist first responders and make the area safe.

The Christian schoolsaid there was a gas leak and explosion at its multistory Upper School, which houses grades 9-12. The academy has about 825 students in grades Pre-K through 12, housed on two campuses. The 2017-18 school year is set to begin August 23.

“I would imagine it would have been a lot more significant if it was (during) school time,” Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said. “It is a good thing that it’s the summer time and probably limited the amount of people that were in the building.”

Video broadcast by CNN affiliate WCCO showed smoke and flames rising from the debris.

Jack Mahler was warming up for a soccer practice nearby when he heard two sprinting men yelling “gas!” and “get out!” Shortly after, there was a huge explosion that knocked him off his feet, he told WCCO, “and then it was just kinda chaos from there.”

Three people on the roof of the school needed assistance getting down, officials said.

John Barron, who lives across the street from the academy, told the station that the blast shook his windows and startled his dogs.

“I saw that where the building used to be one continuous building, (it) now had a gap,” he said. “I could see sunlight all the way through to the other side.”

Gov. Mark Dayton pledged resources for first responders. “I thank the many firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers who rushed to the scene this morning, and who are working still to ensure the safety of our children, adults, friends, and neighbors,” he said in a statement.