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Fire damages immigrant gathering spots in southwest Missouri


NOEL, Mo. — At least two people were being treated for injuries at hospitals in southwest Missouri after a fire destroyed a grocery store and an adjacent mosque that were gathering spots for immigrants in the small town of Noel, authorities said on Monday.

McDonald County Emergency Management director Gregg Sweeten said authorities received a 911 call at 6:50 a.m. Monday about a blaze at the African Grocery Store in downtown Noel.

Sweeten said a person who was inside the store was flown by helicopter to a burn unit at a Springfield hospital. He also said that a wall collapsed on a firefighter, who was being treated for injuries at a hospital in Joplin.

The cause of the blaze was still being investigated. Sweeten said that for now, “nothing looks like it’s suspicious.”

Firefighters from several area departments were able to extinguish the blaze before it damaged other buildings.

The mosque and the store, which sold a wide range of products from Africa and the Middle East, were gathering spots in Noel, a town of 1,800 in the far southwest corner of Missouri.

The town has a large immigrant population including Pacific Islanders, Sudanese, Somalis and refugees from Myanmar. Most were drawn to Noel by jobs at the local Tyson Foods chicken processing plant.

“It meant a lot, the mosque... when I was not feeling good it was the place where I went when I wanted to feel at peace,” Muhamed Jama, a Tyson plant worker said of the mosque, where he would often come for prayer. “It was a very important part of my life. I’m pretty saddened by it.”

The Associated Press