New Year’s Day tragedy on the West Bank


It started with an explosion, at approximately 8:15 a.m. on New Year’s Day. By the time the firefighters arrived, the building was in flames. There were injured victims lying around outside the building, having jumped from second- and third-floor windows. The crew fought the blaze inside for about 15 minutes, then had to leave due to the fierce heat and decreasing stability of the building, which did partially collapse shortly afterwards. An article in popular news and opinion blog Daily Kos ( has interesting information that has apparently not been picked up in any local media.
“Ahmed Muse, one of the five owners of the Otanga grocery store on the main floor of the building, describes feeling an ‘electrical shock’ strong enough that he was prompted to call the police. Shortly after officers arrived, the explosion happened while Mr. Muse was standing outside with them attempting to explain what had happened.”
Temperatures were around 0 degrees Fahrenheit on New Year’s Day; the water used to fight the blaze froze instantly. Soon, the building and trees around it were draped with huge, smoke-tinged icicles. The sidewalks and street were inches thick in slick ice.
The full scope of loss was not fully known until the weekend, by which time the death toll had risen from zero to three. On Jan. 2, the first body, that of Ahmed Ali, 57, was found. On Friday, Jan. 3, the body of his friend and temporary guest, Mrimri Jama Farah, 60, was found. Both had been identified as missing after the fire. Then, on Saturday, Abdiqani Adan, 29, one of the injured in hospital, died of his injuries. There were still several victims in hospital as of the last report on Jan. 9. Additionally, all of the residents of the apartments are homeless and have lost all their possessions. The Otanga grocery store is gone, and the mosque and Islamic civic center next door, one of the oldest in the Midwest, is severely water-damaged and vacated. The partially fallen building was razed on Jan. 3, but as of Jan. 13, the rubble remains in place, surrounded by an orange plastic fence. Cedar Avenue was closed for two days. Nearby Palmer’s Bar was closed for three days.
All of the residents of the apartments were East African immigrants, mostly Somali. But virtually the whole city has felt a part of the tragedy and offers of help and support have come from everywhere. Outside the city, there have been attempts to spin the story as somehow related to the Al-Shabab attack on the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu. The xenophobes and haters are always delighted at horrible events like these. One local Islamophobic blog, no name or link will be given, ran an entire series of blogs trying to prove—something; about 10,000 words to say that the cause of the explosion was not what authorities say. Oh, by the way, the cause of the explosion has not been determined yet. But whatever it is, it will be a cover-up, according to Mr. Blogging Crusader.
Neighbors on the West Bank don’t see this as something that has hurt the African community so much as something that has hurt the West Bank, our neighbors, our city. Angie Courchaine, a young non-African resident of the apartments across Cedar Avenue, talks of how the tragedy has renewed the desire of all on the West Bank to get to know their neighbors and be there for them in a crisis. Like the loss of Dania Hall over 13 years ago, the loss of yet another venerable old building is chipping away at the unique character of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The destroyed grocery store may have catered mainly to East Africans, but plenty of others shopped there. According to one neighbor, the business, a member of the West Bank Business Association, which is now exploring ways to help, was more than a grocery store—it was a community resource.
A major source of assistance to the displaced residents is the Confederation of Somali Communities in MN at the nearby Brian Coyle Center. This is where people from all over Minneapolis, of every color and religion, dropped by with boots, coats, blankets and money. The CSC-MN has now set up a fund called the Cedar-Riverside Fire Victims Fund. (You can donate online or by check at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank.) Many area churches and synagogues have offered space to displaced Dar al Hijrah Mosque and its many programs. For now, the prayers are being held at the Brian Coyle Center and the other programs are temporarily suspended.
The Cedar Cultural Center, Augsburg College and KFAI Radio are hosting a Cedar Ave Fire Benefit concert Jan. 24 at the Cedar Cultural Center, featuring Spider John Koerner, the Brass Messengers, Martin Devaney, Phil Heywood and others. Check the Cedar Cultural Center website for ticket sales and details.

Comments are closed.