By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - At least 14 people were injured, six of them critically, in an explosion and fire at a Minneapolis apartment building Wednesday morning in frigid temperatures, officials said.
The blast and blaze started at about 8 a.m. CST (1400 GMT) and engulfed the three-story building, which has a grocery store on its ground floor, they said.
Firefighters were forced to withdraw from the building minutes after arriving because of the severity of the fire and concerns about the building's structural integrity and it was not possible to determine if everyone was accounted for, the fire department said in a statement.
Huge flames shot from windows and clouds of billowing smoke enveloped the building as firefighters battled the early New Year's Day blaze in sub-zero temperatures.
"When crews initially arrived on scene, they reported flames shooting as far as 20 feet out of the windows of the second and third floors," Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters at the scene.
Firefighters climbed an aerial ladder with hoses to douse the fire, and the water quickly formed icicles and a shell of ice encased the building.
The injured were rushed to two local hospitals, six of them in critical condition, fire and police officials said. Thirteen were transported immediately and another person approached emergency responders later in the morning.
The injuries included burns and traumatic injuries consistent with a fall, said Robert Ball, spokesman for Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services.
First responders told emergency dispatchers that people had jumped from the building and some injured people were on the street as they arrived.
Fruetel said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
"It will certainly take us some time to determine the cause and origin of the fire," Fruetel said.
The building is located in an ethnic community of predominantly Somali immigrants, near the campus of the University of Minnesota.
"This is a tragic event," said Abdi Warsame, a newly elected City Council member who represents the neighborhood. "My heart goes out to the victims and their families.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Andrea Ricci and Chris Reese)