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Body found in rubble after Minneapolis fire, 1 still unaccounted for

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Fire officials in Minneapolis say a body has been recovered from the rubble of the apartment building and grocery store that exploded in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on New Year's Day.

In a statement, Assistant Fire Chief Chérie Penn said, "At approximately 1:55 p.m. Minneapolis Fire Department officials confirmed that one body was discovered in the structure at 516 Cedar Ave. S."

According to the Star Tribune, Penn said the victim's body has been turned over to the Hennepin County Medical examiner's office.

Fire officials have not identified the victim.

Demolition crews will continue carefully removing debris from the charred, ice-covered shell of what used to be the three-story building.

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said at a news conference Thursday that crews will be cautious making their way through the unstable remnants as one person is still unaccounted for.

According to KARE 11, the two men who are unaccounted for are identified as roommates MriMri Farah and Ahmad Ali. It is not known if either men are the victim found in the rubble on Thursday afternoon.

KARE reports that a medical examiner is on the scene and more information on the discovery is forthcoming.

Fourteen people were injured in the New Year's Day blaze and were transported to area hospitals. KSTP reports three victims remain in critical condition and six are in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center. Fruetel says one hospitalized victim has still not been identified.

The investigation on the cause of the fire and explosion is underway, and fire officials are clashing with CenterPoint Energy officials over whether a gas leak may have been the cause, the Star Tribune reports.

Fruetel on Thursday said a gas-related explosion may have been the cause of the blaze. Fruetel says witnesses reported smelling a gas odor at the time of the fire. But CenterPoint spokeswoman Rebecca Virden told the Star Tribune, “We had no natural gas in the area." She said the utility had done investigating and testing in the area.

Ahmed Muse, one of the owners of Otonga Grocery located on the first floor, told the Star Tribune that he called police about an "electrical shock" on Wednesday morning around 8 a.m. When Muse went outside to talk with officers, he witnessed an explosion on the second floor that blew out windows and scattered glass on the street.

More than 50 firefighters were called in to battle the inferno that followed in subzero temperatures. Fruetel says firefighters were only able to make it into the first floor of the building before dangerous conditions forced them to evacuate.

Nine of ten apartment units were occupied during the time of fire, although it's unclear how many people have been displaced.

A mosque and Islamic cultural center next door sustained water and smoke damage. A property owner told the Star Tribune that there was 28 inches of water in the basement. It could take at least six months to repair.

The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota set up a disaster relief fund at Wells Fargo. Executive Director Mohamud Noor says 100 percent of donations will go to victims and families.

The Brian Coyle Center, part of Pillsbury United Communities, will have details on their website Thursday afternoon about a support system it's putting in place for fire victims.

The Red Cross is also assisting with the response and is accepting donations for victims.

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