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1 body found in Minneapolis apartment fire

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AMY FORLITI | January 2, 2014 05:17 PM EST | AP

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Authorities said Thursday that they have discovered a body in the ruins of a Minneapolis apartment fire that left 14 people injured.

No identifying information was released, and the body was turned over to the medical examiner.

Fire Chief John Fruetel said Thursday that authorities were looking at a possible natural gas leak as the cause of the explosion and fire that destroyed the three-story building, though it's still under investigation. Frutel said witnesses told investigators they smelled an odor and the debris field from the blast also points to a possible gas explosion.

The fire injured 14 people, and at least three remained in critical condition Thursday. Before the discovery of the body, authorities had said two people were unaccounted for.

The building's roof had partially collapsed, making it too dangerous for firefighters to enter Wednesday, but crews were beginning the process of debris removal Thursday.

"Crews will be very cautious and deliberate as they go through the structure," Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said in a statement Thursday.

Abdi Warsame, a Minneapolis city councilman-elect for the area, said the victims are members of the city's large Somali community.

Abdirizak Bihi, a local Somali who has provided social services to residents in the building in the past, said he's familiar with the building and people often gathered there to socialize on weekends and holidays.

"The place is usually packed," he said.

He said at least a few community elders are among the building's residents, and at least three residents were out of town at the time of the fire.

Wednesday's firefighting efforts were hampered by the cold. As firefighters aimed their hoses at the flames, water gushed from windows and doorways, forming icicles on window frames and leaving the street slick and icy.

The facade of the building and trees out front were also coated with ice. Fruetel said no fire crew members were hurt, adding that they did a great job under "extreme conditions."

Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, said his group is opening a fund to collect donations for victim and families.

"This is a horrible tragedy," Noor said in a statement. "We stand together to help families both in the immediate aftermath and in the days, weeks and months to come."

Noor asked the community to support families as the search for the missing continues.

"We pray that they are found and can resume their lives," he said.

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