Image: Emergency personnel work at the scene of school building collapse at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adam Bettcher
By Todd Melby
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – At least one person was killed and nine others injured on Wednesday after a gas explosion ripped through a Christian private school in Minneapolis, starting a fire and causing a building to collapse, authorities said.
A school employee was missing more than six hours after the 10:20 a.m. CDT blast at Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel told a news conference, and crews were searching the rubble in the hope of finding that person alive.
“We still consider it a rescue at this point,” Fruetel said, adding that the situation was “precarious” with two floors of unstable debris that could still collapse during the search.
Fruetel declined to identify the person who was killed, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that it was Ruth Berg, a 47-year-old receptionist at the school who was engaged to be married.
Family members told local news channel KARE that John Carlson, an 81-year-old custodian, was still missing and that no one had been able to reach him.
The nine people who were injured were taken to local hospitals, and one was in critical condition, Fruetel said.
Authorities said there were early indications that a ruptured gas line may have led to the explosion and that it was caused by contractors working at the school. The academy confirmed on Facebook that there had been a gas leak and explosion at its Upper School.
“This is a day of extraordinary heartbreak in Minneapolis,” Mayor Betsy Hodges told the news conference.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said on Twitter that its agents, fire investigators and trained canines were at the site of the explosion.
Phillip Day, 41, said that he, his wife and their 17-year-old daughter, Chimali, had been at the school meeting with a counsellor to discuss college options when the explosion occurred.
Day said that as they left a conference room, his daughter was blown back through the door by the force of the blast and his wife was scraped.
Tramon Van Leer, 33, was in the gym at the Minnehaha Academy playing basketball with his stepdaughter and four other girls when they heard the blast.
After they ran outside to safety, Van Leer said he looked back and, “Wow, the whole section of the school is gone.”
According to its website Minnehaha Academy, which was founded in 1913, teaches more than 800 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)
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