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UPDATE: 2nd body found in rubble of school

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David Joles/Star Tribune via AP David Joles/Star Tribune via AP
David Joles/Star Tribune via AP David Joles/Star Tribune via AP
David Joles/Star Tribune via AP David Joles/Star Tribune via AP

An explosion at a school in Minneapolis killed two people, injured several others and reduced part of a building to rubble, fire officials said.

City Fire Chief John Fruetel said the body of the second person killed in the blast was recovered around 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Minnehaha Academy, a private Christian school that serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grades. Fruetel said the medical examiner's office was working to notify relatives.

The blast occurred in a utility area as students were playing soccer and basketball at school, according to fire and school officials.

Contractors were working on one of the campus' buildings at the time of the blast, which investigators believe was caused by a natural gas explosion, said Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Bryan Tyner.

The school said on its Facebook page that the explosion killed Ruth Berg, a receptionist for 17 years at the school who "welcomed everyone with a smile," and John Carlson, a part-time janitor known for giving Dilly Bars to students.

Carlson, 81, attended the school as a child, sent his own children there, and was like a grandfather figure to students, school officials said.

Four people remained hospitalized late Wednesday, including one in critical condition, at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, according to the hospital.

Dr. Jim Miner, the hospital's chief of emergency medicine, said victims treated from the blast suffered injuries ranging from head injuries and broken bones to cuts from debris.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the school Thursday. Agency spokesman Eric Weiss said the NTSB is investigating because it has jurisdiction over gas pipelines.

Aerial video footage of the school's campus showed part of a building was ripped apart, with wood splintered and bricks scattered about. Windows in other areas were blown out and shattered. Three people were rescued from the building's roof shortly after the explosion and fire, Tyner said.

Paul Meskan, who lives across the street, said he was pulling weeds when the blast happened, and he quickly ran over to the school. Meskan said he and other people who rushed to help found a man pinned under the rubble.

"We just started digging," Meskan said. He said that after police and firefighters arrived, "we kept digging, and gas, gas was going. Fire was going. And it's like, 'we're not going back until we get this guy out of here.' And we got him out, and they got him on a stretcher."

The Star Tribune reported that city records show Master Mechanical Inc. was issued a permit on June 7 for "gas piping and hooking up meter" at the school's address.

A statement from Master Mechanical early Thursday said its employees were among the injured. The company said it was grateful to the first responders and bystanders who came to the aid of all the injured. The contractor did not say how many of its employees were hurt.

Master Mechanical has twice been cited for workplace violations in recent years, according to the newspaper. Jenny O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in 2010 there was a violation related to protecting an employee from falling. In 2014, the company had paperwork violations.

At the time of Wednesday's blast, as many as 10 students were playing basketball inside a gym at Minnehaha Academy but weren't near the explosion, said Sara Jacobson, the school's executive director of institutional advancement. Jacobson also was in the building during the explosion.

"There was a very loud explosion, and ceiling tiles and windows and materials rained down on our heads," she said. "And then soon as it was over, we made our way down a dark hallway to the exit as quickly as we could."

WCCO-TV reported that hundreds of people gathered Wednesday evening for a prayer vigil about a mile from the school.

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Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed to this report from Milwaukee.


The second body recovered in the explosion has been confirmed to be school janitor John Carlson. Minnehaha Academy released the following statement on their Facebook account:

Minnehaha Academy is deeply saddened by today's events. Tonight we report that we have lost alum and staff member John Carlson. John Carlson was Minnehaha's biggest cheerleader and a long-time presence in the school. He graduated from Minnehaha in 1953, sent his children here, and after retiring from his first career he came back to work at the school. John will be deeply missed. Please keep John's family, Ruth's family, those who were injured, and our school community, in your prayers. Thank you to all of the emergency responders in their efforts, and thank you to the community that has shown such support throughout this tragic day.


Officials say a second body has been recovered after an explosion and partial building collapse at a Minneapolis school.

Fire Chief John Fruetel says the body was found around 8 p.m. Wednesday. Fruetel says the medical examiner's office is working to notify family members.

Fruetel says the cause of the natural gas explosion at the Minnehaha Academy remains under investigation. The private Christian school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The school earlier said receptionist Ruth Berg also died in the blast, and that janitor John Carlson was missing. At a news conference Wednesday night, Fruetel did not specify whether Carlson's body was the one located.

The state fire marshal's office is aiding in the investigation.


Minneapolis firefighters are trying to stabilize a partially collapsed school building in order to locate a man believed to be buried in the rubble.

Authorities say a fatal natural gas explosion Wednesday partially collapsed a building at the Minnehaha Academy.

The private school says longtime receptionist Ruth Berg died in the blast and janitor John Carlson remains missing.

The local fire chief says he's hopeful Carlson is alive, and that the search is being treated as a rescue operation.


5:35 p.m.

Officials at a private school in Minneapolis have identified the employee who was killed in a natural gas explosion on campus, as well as a second worker who remains missing.

Minnehaha Academy says Ruth Berg worked at the school for 17 years before she was killed Wednesday in the explosion. The blast partially collapsed a building on the school's campus.

On its Facebook page, the school says Berg "welcomed everyone with a smile and was always willing to go the extra mile to help our students."

The missing employee was identified as John Carlson, a janitor at the school.

School official Sara Jacobson says Carlson graduated from Minnehaha Academy in 1953, and that the school is hoping for a miracle.

5 p.m.

A Minneapolis hospital says it is still treating four people who were injured in a fatal gas explosion at a local school.

Nine people were initially taken to Hennepin County Medical Center following the late Wednesday morning explosion at Minnehaha Academy. The blast partially collapsed a building on the private school's campus.

The hospital says five people have since been released, but that one person is still in critical condition.

Authorities say one school staff member was killed in the blast and another is missing.


UPDATE: 4:35 p.m.

Authorities say one school staff member is dead and another is missing after a natural gas explosion at a college prep school in Minneapolis. The local fire chief says a body was found Wednesday after the explosion caused a partial building collapse at Minnehaha Academy. The fire department says both individuals worked at the school.


UPDATE: 3:15 p.m

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said one person has died in a gas explosion and building collapse at a Minneapolis school Wednesday morning. 

One person remains unaccounted for at Minnehaha Academy. He said that crews were assessing the structural integrity of the building and rubble to help form a plan to continue the search for the missing person. 

Neither person has been identified though Minneapolis Fire said that both the person who died and the missing person are both school staff members.

Hennepin County Medical Center says three patients suffered critical injuries in the explosion Wednesday at Minnehaha Academy.

The hospital's chief of emergency medicine, Dr. Jim Miner, says the injuries range from head injuries and broken bones to cuts from debris.

Minnehaha Academy is a private Christian school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Local fire officials say the explosion was caused by natural gas, and contractors were working on the building at the time of the blast.


UPDATE:

School officials say all students and staff are safe following an explosion at a private college prep school in Minneapolis, though authorities say two people remain unaccounted for.

The Minneapolis Fire Department says a gas explosion caused the blast and partial building collapse Wednesday at Minnehaha Academy. Fire officials say contractors were working on the building at the time.

Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner says two people are unaccounted for and one person suffered critical injuries in the blast.

The school released a statement saying all of its summer program students and staff "are accounted for and safe."

The private Christian school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.


Two people are unaccounted for after an explosion and partial building collapse Wednesday at a private college prep school in Minneapolis, fire officials said.

The Minneapolis Fire Department said the explosion was reported at Minnehaha Academy, a Christian school serving students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The agency initially said three people were missing, but later said one of those people had been found uninjured.

Police said five people were taken to a hospital with injuries, though one has since been released.

Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said three people were rescued from the roof. He said crews were working to put out a fire in the building and searching for the missing individuals who may be trapped in the rubble. He didn’t immediately know whether the missing were adults or children.

Tyner said it appears the explosion may have been caused by a ruptured gas line, but that the investigation is ongoing.

Minnehaha Academy is on summer break, but many students and staff were at the campus for basketball practice, soccer and cross country activities.

The school has multiple buildings. In a post on its Facebook page, the school said the explosion only affected the “upper school,” and staff inside the building reported hearing a loud noise and feeling the building shake. The academy’s lower school was unaffected.

Tramon Vanleer, who helps coach a summer program, was in the gym when the explosion occurred. He told KARE-TV that he had five girls with him when the explosion happened.

“It sounded like a freight door shutting. It sounded like a large door shutting, and at the same time the lights went out and there was some debris that fell from the ceiling, so we just got out as fast as possible,” he said. “It didn’t sound that bad on the inside of the gym, but coming outside it was a lot worse.”

About a dozen students were in the upper school’s gym at the time, but all are OK, according to Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional advancement at the school.

City records show that Eagan-based Master Mechanical Inc. was issued a permit on June 7 for “gas piping and hooking up meter” at the address. Ryan Larsen, a financial officer with the company, told the Star Tribune: “We’ve got people on the site there. They are figuring it out.”

Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement saying his office is in continuous contact with city officials about the situation. Dayton said the state “will provide any and all resources necessary” to help first responders and ensure everyone is safe.

The Minneapolis Fire Department initially tweeted that one fatality was reported, but Tyner later said that fire officials were backing off that statement.


Two people remain unaccounted for in a gas explosion Wednesday morning that led to the collapse of a section of a school building in Minneapolis.

The explosion happened Wednesday morning at the Minnehaha Academy. 

The Minneapolis Fire Department said that besides the two people unaccounted for, five people were transported to the hospital, one critical, with one person evaluated and released . 

A third person who was earlier unaccounted for was later found unharmed according to Assistant Chief of Administration Bryan Tyner.

He stated they were trying to identify the two missing people.

All of those injured were adults according to the chief. They were either contractors working on the building when the explosion occurred or school employees. 

He said that it had to be a 'very significant explosion to have taken out that building and cause it to collapse.' 

Chief Tyner said firefighters were assessing the structural integrity of the building and were trying to shore up parts of the building in order to safely continue the search

Three people had to be helped off the roof of the building according to Chief Tyner. 

Originally, the Minneapolis Fire Department reported one fatality. However, the department later said that fatality had not been confirmed. 

It was not known yet how many people were in the building when the explosion occurred according to the department spokesperson.

Chief Tyner said that the rest of the building has been cleared by firefighters.

Minnehaha Academy issued the following statement:

There was a gas leak and explosion at the Upper School. Emergency responders are on the scene. This only affects the Upper School. If you need to pick up a person from the school, pick up on Edmond Blvd. We will keep you informed as we learn more.

Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional advancement for the school, told KSTP's Todd Wilson there were a dozen students in the gym when the apparent explosion happened. She said those students are OK because the gym was not close to the site of the apparent explosion.

Jacobson said there were faculty from the school in the area of the apparent explosion. She said it is currently unknown if they’re OK.

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