New Orleans hotel collapse: Demolition of cranes delayed

By REBECCA SANTANA | Sat, October 19, 2019 05:46 EDT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A plan to use explosives to topple two giant cranes leaning precariously over a partially collapsed hotel has been delayed until Sunday, city officials said after determining the cranes were more damaged than previously thought.

Officials said a demolition that had been planned Saturday will now take place no earlier than noon Sunday. Fire Chief Tim McConnell said the latest delay was caused by the new assessment of the cranes.

"As they got up and got closer they found out some things about it that have changed the way they are going to take it down ... and that's going to take a little longer for them to accomplish," he said at a news conference. "The cranes are more damaged than they thought."

The Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the edge of the historic French Quarter partially collapsed Oct. 12, killing three workers. Two bodies remain in the unstable wreckage and Mayor LaToya Cantrell said recovering the remains would be a priority once the cranes are down.

The two cranes — one tower rising about 270 feet (82 meters) above the rubble and the other about 300 feet (91 meters) high — weigh tons and have loomed over the crumpled hotel since it collapsed.

If the demolition plans succeed, the towers will drop vertically, sparing neighboring landmark buildings such as the Saenger Theatre and the New Orleans Athletic Club, both built in the 1920s.

Officials said Saturday that they would give residents who needed to evacuate four hours' notice ahead of the planned demolition. Cantrell also said she would not authorize the use of explosives during the night.

Officials have repeatedly said they are adjusting plans as necessary, based on the information they are getting from experts brought in to help devise a plan to remove the cranes.

"We've told you that this is a very dangerous building. The cranes are still in a precarious situation," McConnell, the fire chief, said. He said at least one of the cranes was leaning more Saturday morning than it was the day before.

"It shifted and didn't come back, which tells me it's weakening," he said.

On Saturday, workers suspended in a basket held by a crane could be seen high over the wreckage, working on the cranes. Down below, streets in one of the busiest parts of town had been closed off and tents set up in the center of Canal Street where the city's famous red street cars usually roll back and forth.

Dozens of tourists, employees and residents were milling around nearby, taking photos. But officials have said repeatedly that they do not want people to come to the area to watch the demolition in person.

Experts, including engineers who worked on demolitions after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, were called in to try to come up with a plan to clear the site and prevent further injury and damage before the cranes fell on their own.

Once planned for Friday, the demolition was first pushed back to Saturday.

The cause of the collapse remains unknown. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating and, Cantrell and McConnell said, evidence gathering began soon after the collapse.

Lawsuits are already being filed on behalf of some of the more than 20 people injured against the project's owners and contractors.

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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