• Flames shoot up as firefighters train water hoses on the scene of a collapsed building following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Flames shoot up as firefighters train water hoses on the scene of a collapsed building following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Firefighters don gear amid a debris field just west of where a building exploded at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
(Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Firefighters don gear amid a debris field just west of where a building exploded at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
    (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Shattered windows and fragmented bricks are visible following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Shattered windows and fragmented bricks are visible following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Katerina Misa, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, leans on fellow grad Jose Williams III for support as they listen to officials brief the media about the search for survivors of a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

    Katerina Misa, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, leans on fellow grad Jose Williams III for support as they listen to officials brief the media about the search for survivors of a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. “A lot of us just came here today when we heard the news,” said Misa, a Roseville resident. “We’re a tight-knit community. All our friends are here.” (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, gives her name to a Minneaapolis police officer outside Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Peterson arrived to pick up Taytum Rhoades, a students and daughter of a friend. Taytum, who was inside the gym when the explosion happened, escaped unharmed and was united with Peterson later. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, gives her name to a Minneaapolis police officer outside Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Peterson arrived to pick up Taytum Rhoades, a students and daughter of a friend. Taytum, who was inside the gym when the explosion happened, escaped unharmed and was united with Peterson later. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Ashley Mullen, right, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, clasps hands with a friend as officials brief the media on search and rescue efforts following a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

    Ashley Mullen, right, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, clasps hands with a friend as officials brief the media on search and rescue efforts following a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. “I came when I heard the news,” she said. The friend declined to be identified. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, walks with Minnehaha Academy student Taytum Rhoades away from the scene of an explosion Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Taytum, a resident of St. Paul's Mac Groveland neighborhood, was inside the gymnasium when the explosion happened. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, walks with Minnehaha Academy student Taytum Rhoades away from the scene of an explosion Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Taytum, a resident of St. Paul’s Mac Groveland neighborhood, was inside the gymnasium when the explosion happened. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • St. Paul firefighters huddle before heading into the scene of a collapsed building at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    St. Paul firefighters huddle before heading into the scene of a collapsed building at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • A representative of the Minneapolis Fire Department speaks to the media outside Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    A representative of the Minneapolis Fire Department speaks to the media outside Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges speaks to the media at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges speaks to the media at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • A firefighter leaves the scene at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. A natural gas explosion killed at least one person and left a number wounded. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    A firefighter leaves the scene at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. A natural gas explosion killed at least one person and left a number wounded. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Shattered windows and fragmented bricks are visible following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. The explosion happened in or near a smaller building that stood between the two visible buildings here. Vantage is looking west. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Shattered windows and fragmented bricks are visible following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. The explosion happened in or near a smaller building that stood between the two visible buildings here. Vantage is looking west. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Flames shoot up as firefighters train water hoses on the scene of a collapsed building following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Flames shoot up as firefighters train water hoses on the scene of a collapsed building following an explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional enhancement at Minnehaha Academy, talks to a neighbor about the situation at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

    Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional enhancement at Minnehaha Academy, talks to a neighbor about the situation at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

  • Blown out windows are seen at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis after a gas explosion caused a portion of a building to collapse Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Frederick Melo / Pioneer Press)

    Blown out windows are seen at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis after a gas explosion caused a portion of a building to collapse Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Frederick Melo / Pioneer Press)

A school receptionist is dead and a custodian is missing after a natural-gas explosion Wednesday morning at the Upper Campus of Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.

Nine people were injured in the blast, which occurred about 10:20 a.m. in the school’s boiler room, fire officials said. At least one remained in critical condition Wednesday evening.

Ruth Berg (Facebook photo)
Ruth Berg (Facebook photo)

The school identified the dead as 48-year-old Ruth Berg, who worked in the school’s administrative office, and the missing person as John Carlson, 81.

Crews were still considering it a rescue operation Wednesday evening, searching for Carlson under the rubble of the building’s collapsed center section, said Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel.

All students at the private school’s summer program were safe. Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional advancement at the school, said about a dozen students were in the gym and about 35 to 50 people were in the entire building.

The nine injured were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. By Wednesday evening, five had been discharged. One remained in critical condition; WCCO-TV identified him as assistant soccer coach Bryan Duffey. Three were listed in satisfactory condition. Among the injured in the blast: Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris, who returned to the scene hours later, leaning on others for help.

Their blast-related injuries ranged from head trauma and broken bones to cuts and scrapes.

“We were relieved,” said Jim Miner, chief of emergency services at HCMC. “We were prepared for a lot more injuries. … We all feared for the worst when we first heard.”

Fire officials have not ruled out the possibility that Carlson could be found alive. The front wall blew off when the roof collapsed, Fruetel said, and interior walls could have created space where Carlson could survive.

Rescue crews were expected to work through the night, slowly and in a way that would secure the building to make sure it wouldn’t collapse on them.

He said crews had a “general location” of where Carlson might be.

A FRIENDLY FACE EVERYONE KNEW

Minnehaha Academy student Ashley Mullen, 18, said Berg was a “friendly face — anyone who called the school would go to her. Every day, the students would lead announcements and she would help them.”

Ashley Mullen, right, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, clasps hands with a friend as officials brief the media on search and rescue efforts following a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. "I came when I heard the news," she said. The friend declined to be identified. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)
Ashley Mullen, right, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, clasps hands with a friend as officials brief the media on search and rescue efforts following a natural gas explosion at the private school in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. “I came when I heard the news,” she said. The friend declined to be identified. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

Carlson was at the school on his day off, said a friend who knew Carlson since World War II.

“He wasn’t scheduled to work today but he came in anyway,” said the friend, Dave Swanson, who stood watch during the search on behalf of Carlson’s wife, who couldn’t be there.

Dave Swanson looking for custodian John Carlson, 81, friend since WWII. Wife said he went to academy, despite day off pic.twitter.com/AY6LXF0U4P

— FredMelo, Reporter (@FrederickMelo) August 2, 2017

BOILER SYSTEM WORK

Bryan Tyner, assistant Minneapolis fire chief, said contractors were in the building working on the boiler system when the explosion occurred.

Minneapolis records show the city issued a permit June 7 to Master Mechanical Inc. of Eagan for “gas piping and hooking up meter.” The company said it was working with fire investigators.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in this tragedy and especially with the families and loved ones of those who have died or who have been injured,” the company said in a statement.

A HUGE CLOUD OF DUST

Ramsey County sheriff’s Deputy Paul Meskan was weeding his front garden, across the street from the school, when he heard the blast and, turning, saw a huge cloud of dust. Teens who had been playing soccer in the field between were running, screaming, he said.

He ran toward the cloud and saw a man buried to his knees in the bricks of the building’s collapsed walls. Digging fast, he helped pull the man out and applied a tourniquet to stem his bleeding. He looked to have bad injuries to his head and legs.

Minneapolis police officers Dean Milner and Vicki Karnik, reached the school within two minutes and found a mound of rubble with flames shooting out.

They were able to dig out one man — somewhat conscious and appearing in shock — and heard from two others that a woman was deeper inside.

But the heat, firefighters’ ordered them to pull back; they couldn’t rescue her.

“You just couldn’t go any further,” Meskan said.

“It was really hard to stop,” Karnik said.

‘LIKE AN EARTHQUAKE’

Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional enhancement at Minnehaha Academy, talks to a neighbor about the situation at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)
Sara Jacobson, executive director of institutional enhancement at Minnehaha Academy, talks to a neighbor about the situation at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

Jacobson, the administrator, was in a second-floor office when she heard a blast. The power went out, windows shattered and glass and ceiling tiles “rained down,” she said. She and other staff grabbed onto each others’ shirttails to make their way down a dark stairway and get out.

“It was dark so we had to feel our way out,” she said.

Josh Thurow, the school’s athletic director and girls basketball coach, was with a half dozen players having open gym at the time of the explosion.

“The gym shook, we ran for it,” he said. “Everyone in my wing got out, so we’re just thankful.”

Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, walks with Minnehaha Academy student Taytum Rhoades away from the scene of an explosion Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Taytum, a resident of St. Paul's Mac Groveland neighborhood, was inside the gymnasium when the explosion happened. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)
Liz Peterson, holding her 14-month-old daughter Lucy, walks with Minnehaha Academy student Taytum Rhoades away from the scene of an explosion Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Taytum, a resident of St. Paul’s Mac Groveland neighborhood, was inside the gymnasium when the explosion happened. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

Minnehaha Academy student Taytum Rhoades was one of those practicing in the gym when the building shook and lights went out.

“Parts of the ceiling sort of collapsed and things were falling. Our coach … told us to run, so we all started running toward the exit,” said Rhoades, a resident of St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood entering her junior year.

“We left everything,” she said. Then she looked down at the basketball in her hand. “Well, I guess I hung onto the ball. I wasn’t really thinking.”

A SURREAL EXPERIENCE

The fleeing students and coach encountered smoke-filled hallways and odd sights as they made their way outside.

Members of the St. Paul Fire Department respond to a building collapse at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)
Members of the St. Paul Fire Department respond to a building collapse at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Dave Orrick / Pioneer Press)

“I could see inside a Spanish class. I could see what was written on the board. It was weird,” Rhoades said.

She saw others stranded on a roof of a connected building. Firefighters confirmed that three people were rescued from the roof.

“When we got outside and saw everything, we were all so relieved and happy that we made it out,” Rhoades said.

The damage occurred in a central, older part of the school building, where ninth- through 12th-graders attend.

‘GAS LEAK! EVERYBODY OUT!’

Judith Lies lives across 31st Street from the gym and said the blast was the loudest sound she’d ever heard.

“Everything shook. All the cupboard doors were blown open,” she said.

minnehaha-academy-upper-school-5

She and several other neighbors praised the rapid response of fire and police crews.

“And we’re so thankful this wasn’t a school day,” Lies said.

Employees of a food-services company that serves the school were at the building Wednesday to interview job candidates, said Alex Buck, the digital media director of Taher Inc. of Minnetonka. The employees told him that a message came across the school’s sound system telling everyone to leave the building.

The workers escaped uninjured and were seen tearfully hugging each other.

“From what I have been able to gather and from what people have been telling me, obviously they are shaken over this, but they said it was a matter of seconds,” Buck said. “Of course in a moment of really high adrenaline, what feels like seconds could be minutes, but from what I am being told, it was just seconds between ‘Gas leak. Everybody out! Everybody out!’ and the explosion.”

Minnehaha Academy is a Christian college prep school and serves more than 800 students in preschool through 12th grade.

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