An explosion at least partially fueled by a natural gas leak at the Minnehaha Academy Upper School in Minneapolis Wednesday morning killed two staff members, sending nine more people to the hospital with injuries of varying severity.
Seven of those nine people had been released as of Thursday evening, leaving one person in critical condition and one in "satisfactory" condition.
Minnehaha Academy confirmed through a Facebook post soon after the blast that receptionist Ruth Berg died as a result of her injuries, leaving a heartfelt goodbye message to the first person everyone saw when entering the school. She had worked there for 17 years.
"As our receptionist, she welcomed everyone with a smile and was always willing to go the extra mile to help our students, families and staff," the school said in a statement. "She will be greatly missed."
Her fiance, who lives near the school, ran over as soon as he heard the blast--knowing immediately that something was wrong. He raced inside despite warnings from first responders in one last desperate attempt to save the love of his life, but it was too late. They were set to be married next month.
“It was so quiet in there,” he said. “I was screaming, ‘Ruth, Ruth, Ruth.’ Nothing. It was so quiet.”
After almost 12 hours of searching for custodian John Carlson, officials said they had located his body near the original blast site.
Friends and family waited with bated breath at the scene as crews worked diligently into the night to clear a large pile of debris near the site of the explosion, a pile of jagged brick and steel where just hours earlier a block of classrooms had stood. They spent most of the day hoping that pile contained enough void space for Carlson to have survived, though ultimately firefighters found his body just after 8 p.m.--right next to the spot where Berg was found hours earlier.
A “Humans of Haha” story in the school newspaper last year profiled Carlson, who was known for handing out Dilly bars to students and always saying “hi” in the hallways. He graduated from Minnehaha Academy in 1953 and sent his own kids there before returning himself after retirement.
“I’ve spent half my life there I might as well work there too,” he told the student reporter. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful job for me because I still have a lot of energy.”
In addition to the two deaths, the explosion seriously injured soccer coach Bryan Duffey, who doctors say is making "positive progress."
Just a few hours after the initial blast, officials confirmed that contractors working on the building had ruptured a gas line that fed the explosion and subsequent fire near the building’s boiler room, prompting an evacuation effort that was already underway when the explosion happened.
The National Transportation Safety Board was on scene within 24 hours, beginning an investigation that could take as long as a year. Early indications are that something went wrong when contractors from Master Mechanical attempted to move a gas meter, at least partially causing the explosion.
All of the students in the building at the time for summer activities were located uninjured, and everyone seemed to immediately agree that despite the obvious tragedy, the events could have been so much worse if classes, set to resume Aug. 23, were in session.
Now, administrators and community members are scrambling to find classroom space after a large chunk of the school was completely destroyed, with no guarantees the rest of the building will be safe to enter. Classes are tentatively scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 5--but that, like so much else for the students and families of those who attend Minnehaha Academy, is now in limbo.
Inside the school: What happened?
Sara Jacobson was among several members of the Minnehaha Academy staff was inside the building. She described the explosion as “very loud" and said ceiling tiles were falling and windows were imploding.
It’s unclear how many people were inside the building at the time of the explosion. Jacobson said about a dozen children were in the gymnasium at the time of the explosion, but those students are accounted for and can be picked up by their parents or guardians. Jacobson said Minnehaha Academy students participating in summer camps and programs use the Lower School campus, which was not affected by this incident.
A basketball coach who was in the gym with about five girls at the time of the explosion described the incident.
“We just heard a loud explosion and got out as quickly as possible. It sounded like a large door slam, but at the same time the lights went out and the ceiling started falling.”
Minnehaha Academy initial statement
“There was a gas leak and explosion at the Upper School,” Minnehaha Academy said in a statement. “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."
An alumni started a GoFundMe page to help the school in its rebuilding efforts, hoping to raise $250,000. If you are interested in finding out more, click here.
Response to gas explosion
Minneapolis Fire Assistant Chief Bryan Tyner said contractors were doing some gas piping and hooking up a meter. It appears the gas leak came from the boiler area. Permits filed with the city of Minneapolis show Master Mechanical was issued a permit for gas piping work at the school on June 7.
About the Minnehaha Academy Upper School
The Minnehaha Academy Upper School is located at 3100 West River Parkway in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. The Upper School is home to grades 9 through 12. Varsity fall sports practices and faculty orientation is scheduled to start Aug. 14 and the school year is scheduled to begin Aug. 23.
Mayor: 'Hold everyone at Minnehaha Academy in your hearts'
Today, my heart and the hearts of the people of Minneapolis are with the students, staff, and families of Minnehaha Academy. They and the school are a deeply valued part of our city and our community, particularly the Longfellow neighborhood. This is a terrible, tragic moment for them, and for all who care about them—and we all do. I am on site and will continue to share updates from here as we get them. For now, please hold everyone at Minnehaha Academy in your hearts.
Statement from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton
“My office is in continuous contact with the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, as emergency personnel respond to this emergency. The State will provide any and all resources necessary to aid first responders in their efforts to ensure the safety of all those impacted by this morning’s explosion. I thank the many firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers who rushed to the scene this morning, and who are working still to ensure the safety of our children, adults, friends, and neighbors.”
Statement from Master Mechanical, company working at Minnehaha Academy at the time
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the incident. We are monitoring the situation and at this time we are referring all questions about the event to the Minneapolis Fire Department out of respect for their investigation.