By AMY FORLITI and JEFF BAENEN, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — One school staff member has been found dead and another is still missing following a natural gas explosion Wednesday at a private school in Minneapolis, authorities said.
The body was found in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed during the explosion at the Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said during a news conference. The Christian school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Both individuals worked at the school, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department. No other details were immediately released.
The school released a statement earlier in the day saying all of its summer program students and staff were “accounted for and safe.” The school didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment following Fruetel’s news conference.
Contractors were doing work on the building at the time of the blast, which investigators determined was caused by a gas explosion, according to Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner.
Four people remained hospitalized late Wednesday, including one in critical condition, at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, according to the hospital. Victims suffered injuries ranging from head injuries and broken bones to cuts from debris, according to Dr. Jim Miner, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine.
Aerial video footage of the school’s campus showed part of a building crumbled, windows in other areas blown out and shattered, and bricks and other debris scattered about. Three people were rescued from the roof of the building shortly after the explosion and fire, Tyner said.
Paul Meskan, who lives across the street from the school, said he was pulling weeds when the blast happened, and he 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, noting 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. Ryan Larsen, a company official, released a statement saying the company was monitoring the situation and referred all questions to the Minneapolis Fire Department.
Larsen wouldn’t confirm to The Associated Press that company workers were on site, saying: “We are trying to figure it out.”
Minnehaha Academy has multiple buildings on its campus. The school said the blast only affected the “upper school.”
Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement saying his office was in contact with city officials and the state “will provide any and all resources necessary” to help first responders and ensure everyone is safe.
Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed to this report from Milwaukee.