Salad Mahamud Samatar showed no sign of life when firefighters found him in the 13th floor stairwell during a deadly fire that engulfed his apartment building last week.
Medics, in fact, pronounced the 84-year-old dead at the scene, said his son Nur Abdullahi, who rushed, devastated and in shock, to Hennepin County Medical Center to identify his father’s body.
Nearly a week later, Samatar remains in the hospital, now making what his family calls a miraculous recovery after three nights in a coma as doctors desperately tried to save him from the effects of smoke inhalation — which killed five of his fellow residents of the 25-story Cedar High Apartments in the early morning fire on Nov. 27.
The fire has been ruled unintentional, and investigators say a single specific cause has not been determined.
“When I saw the situation my father was in, I never thought he would be alive today,” Abdullahi said from his father’s hospital room. “But everything happened as planned by God.”
Samatar woke to the smell of gas and noise early that Wednesday morning. He rushed out of his 14th-floor apartment — the same floor where the fire started — and went down the steps to seek refuge.
But Samatar only made it to the 13th floor before he was overcome by smoke and a throbbing headache. He awoke days later in the hospital.
Although he is traumatized, exhausted and finds it difficult to speak, Samatar escaped the fate of several of his neighbors on the 14th floor. Killed were Amatalah Adam, 78, Maryan Mohamud, 69, Nadifa Mohamud (no relation to Maryan), 67, Jerome Stuart, 59, and Tyler Scott Baron, 32.
Abdullahi said his father, who was a healthy person before the fire, is now having trouble speaking, hearing, remembering events and walking on his own.
Besides the physical pain, the traumatic event has also taken an emotional toll on Samatar.
He can’t think clearly and is afraid of anything that triggers his memory of the experience.
“When I try to put a warm blanket on him, he asks me, ‘What if a fire happens?’ ” Abdullahi said. “I’m just happy he is alive.”
To address those problems, doctors intend to discharge Samatar to a temporary nursing facility where he can stay to get the support he needs before returning to his Cedar-Riverside community.
Abdullahi said his family is working with attorneys to determine if the fire was the result of negligence.
On Monday, fire officials pointed to multiple factors, including an electrical short-circuit, a baseboard heater and smoking or “use of smoking materials.”
Meanwhile some families of the fire victims said they are still awaiting closure.
Maryan Mohamud’s family is waiting to return her body to Somalia, where she wished to be buried.
Some families who want access to their loved ones’ apartments to see what remains of them were told by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority that they would only be let in after the units had been cleaned.
The fire’s aftermath included calls for greater fire-prevention efforts.
The high-rise had partial sprinkler coverage on the main floor and lower mechanical equipment rooms but did not have sprinklers on the 14th floor, where the fire began.
It was built before the fire code required sprinkler systems in high-rises, government officials have said.
During an afternoon visit, Abdullahi fed his father, who was hooked to intravenous fluids and a bedside monitor that tracked his vital signs. Abdi Mohamed, the son of fire victim Nadifa Mohamud, read verses from the Qur’an.
Abdi said it was a favor he wanted to return because in the past Samatar had done the same for his family.
Samatar, whose voice cracked as he struggled to speak, said he could only vaguely recount what happened the morning of the fire.
“I tried my best to escape,” Samatar said raising his chin as he gasped for air. “My time hasn’t ended yet.”
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203