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2 children killed, 2 hurt in landslide at St. Paul park

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the area of Lilydale Regional Park and Cherokee Park where a bluff gave way Wednesday afternoon, killing two children, has been closed indefinitely.

Two boys, 9-year-old Haysem Sani and 10-year-old Mohamed Fofana, didn't survive when a landslide sent four fourth-graders on a field trip into a pit, trapping the kids under 4-5 feet of of soil and rock that fell on top them.

Dozens of first responders including police, EMS and firefighters quickly hiked to the muddy area about a quarter mile from the road and began digging by hand for the children.

Rescue crews managed to pull out two students, including Haysem, who were stuck under a tremendous amount of weight, said St. Paul Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith.

The Pioneer Press reports one child escaped on his own and suffered a leg injury.

The three children were transported to Regions Hospital, where Haysem was pronounced dead. One child remains in serious condition with chest injuries, the other was released.

As the rain fell Wednesday, the area proved extremely dangerous for firefighters working to locate the remaining child, Mohamed, who was still buried.

Smith said firefighters used hose lines that extended from the upper level of the bluffs to the fossil pit below, removing tons of sand and soil.

Crews also struggled with water flowing into the waist-deep hole as they searched for the boy.

The dangerous conditions combined with darkness prompted the authorities to call off the search around 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The search resumed Thursday morning around 9:30 a.m. Mohamed's body was located shortly after.

It took rescuers about 45 minuted to remove sand and rubble piled on top of him, Smith said.

Lancine Fofana, Mohamed's father, told the Pioneer Press that his son was excited for the field trip.

"He came to me and said, 'You know we have a field trip tomorrow? I'm so happy,' " said Fofana.

Lilydale Regional Park is one of the most popular fossil-collecting sites in the Twin Cities. Mike Hahm, director of parks and recreation, says the city issues more than 400 fossil permits each year, mostly to schools and educational groups.

Two classes of about 50 fourth-graders from Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park were fossil hunting when the ground collapsed.

Principal Shelley Nielsen said that for many students, this is the first time they’ve dealt with a tragedy of this magnitude, losing classmates, the Star Tribune reported.

Nielsen said the two boys who died were “outstanding students” who had a “love of life.” She said they loved learning and had “very engaged families.”

Hahm says the department has closed the area affected by the landslide and immediate steps have been taken to cancel permits in place for an indefinite period.

Harvey Thorleifson, director of the Minnesota Geological Survey, one of the organizations examining the collapse site, told the Pioneer Press that it's still unclear why the collapse happened and whether factors like heavy rain or manmade disturbances played a role.

Coleman said the city is also asking for help from geologists with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to investigate the area and make sure the park is safe.

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