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Update: 1 dead, 1 still missing after explosion at Minneapolis school

(WCCO) Someone smelled gas moments before the blast at Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School, which happened at about 10:30 a.m.

Minnehaha Academy is a private Christian school for students in preschool through 12th grade, and is located on 3100 W River Parkway.

Family members said that they have been informed a Minnehaha Academy staff member was killed in Wednesday morning’s explosion. Ruth Berg.

School officials say Berg worked as a receptionist there for 17 years.

“She welcomed everyone with a smile and was always willing to go the extra mile to help our students, families and staff,” officials said.

Her fiancé told Mayerle he had just been informed. She was supposed to have been married in October.

Minneapolis police say the final unaccounted for person is also a school staffer. The identity of the individual has yet to be released.

Nine people were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. Most suffered broken bones and head injuries from flying bricks and debris.

By late Wednesday afternoon, one of the survivors was still in critical condition. Three others are in satisfactory condition and five were discharged from the hospital.

Minneapolis fire officials say no children were hurt in the incident. Minnehaha Academy says all Summer Program students and staff are “accounted for and safe.”

Minneapolis police say contractors doing work on the building ruptured a gas line, causing the explosion.

According to city records, Minneapolis issued a permit for Master Mechanical, Inc., to work on the building.

Master Mechanical, based in Eagan, released this statement:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in this tragedy and especially with the families and loved ones of those who have died or who have been injured.

We are forever grateful to those first responders and bystanders who came to the aid of all of the injured, including our employees.

We continue to monitor the situation and are working in full cooperation with the Minneapolis Fire Department. At this time, we are referring all questions about the event to the Minneapolis Fire Department out of respect for their continued efforts.

The explosion happened near the school’s office and maintenance area. Neighbors said they heard the “boom” from blocks away.

“Live across the street from Minnehaha Academy, heard the blast, felt the window shake,” said Deborah Dillaway. “The dogs were startled and came out 30 seconds later, saw where the building used to be one continuous building now had a gap. I could see sunlight all the way through to the other side.”

Residence felt a tremendous blast, and some could even smell natural gas in the neighborhood. When they looked over, all they saw was a cloud of dust and piles of rubble.

1 Dead, 1 Missing After Minnehaha Academy Explosion full spacer 1 Dead, 1 Missing After Minnehaha Academy Explosion

Jack Mahler was playing soccer nearby when the explosion occurred.

“We heard a man yell ‘gas’ and ‘get out’, and we saw one sprint down the street and one sprint into the building, kind of standing in the doorway, yelling it. About the time the man sprinting down the street got to the end down here there was a huge explosion,” Mahler said. “Smoke went up and knocked most of us back. It knocked me off my feet.”

Within seconds of the powerful explosion, residents poured onto sidewalks and front lawns, stunned at the burning pile of rubble that moments before was a century-old

Dillaway said it felt like an earthquake.

“I was just sitting, reading the paper and there was just a huge blast,” Dillaway said. “We used to live in San Francisco, and there are two types [of earthquakes]: one is a short, quick one, the other is a longer one. It felt like the plates were shifting.”

Moments after rescuers pulled a critically-injured man away from the debris, burning gas made it too dangerous to search for any others.

“We have been able to confirm that the explosion the collapsed was caused by a gas explosion,” said Bryan Tyner, assistant chief of the Minneapolis Fire Department. “It may be where we can move it brick by brick, or where we have to get heavy equipment to move the bigger slabs or portions of the building.”

A number of former students were stopping by to see the damage for themselves.

They told WCCO that the building was built back in 1913, and they had celebrated its centennial just a few years ago.

A vigil will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Minnehaha Academy’s Lower and Middle School at 4200 West River Pkwy.

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