A ship floats on the Mississippi River by the Hard Rock Hotel construction site in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The Hard Rock Hotel partially collapsed last week. (Sophia Germer/The Advocate via AP)

In New Orleans, waiting for blasts to take down cranes

October 19, 2019 - 1:01 pm

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — People in New Orleans were readying for officials to set off a series of controlled explosions Saturday that they hope will safely bring down two giant, damaged construction cranes that have been leaning precariously over the crumbled remains of a partially collapsed hotel.

The towers — one around 270 feet (82 meters) high, the other about 300 feet (91 meters) — weigh tons and have loomed over the wreckage for a week. The Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the corner of Canal and Rampart Streets partially collapsed last Saturday, killing three workers. Two bodies remain in the unstable wreckage and Mayor LaToya Cantrell said recovering the remains would be a top priority once the area was rendered safe.

The city's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said on Twitter that the precise time of the controlled demolition was still being determined. They also tweeted that a Halloween parade slated for Saturday evening through the French Quarter had been cancelled due to the planned demo.

If the plans succeed, the towers will drop vertically, sparing neighboring structures that include the Saenger Theatre and the New Orleans Athletic Club, both built in the 1920s. An existing evacuation area was to be expanded as the demolition hour approached — most likely some time Saturday afternoon. Officials said shelter would be provided for anyone needing it as a result. In a still-wider area, traffic was to be prohibited and people would be ordered to stay indoors until the demolition is complete and an all-clear is given.

"If you are in line of sight of this you are too close," said city Homeland Security director Collin Arnold.

Jenna Ard lives in an apartment building inside the expanded evacuation zone and left her apartment Saturday morning, her car packed with belongings.

"We were told to move our cars at midnight last night and we should be out by 8 a.m. and the firefighters would come by and check and knock on the doors," she said.

During the days leading up to Saturday's planned demo, she said she'd been hearing the sounds of creaking metal coming from the building and seen drones being used to survey damage and look for bodies in the building.

On Saturday, workers suspended in a basket held by a crane could be seen high over the wreckage, working on the building.

Experts, including engineers who worked on demolitions following 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. Heightening the urgency was the approach of Tropical Storm Nestor, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. The storm's forecast track was well east of the city but officials worried wind from its outer bands could add to the threat of an uncontrolled fall of the cranes.

On Thursday, officials announced plans to attach explosives to the structures. Once planned for Friday, the demolition was pushed back to Saturday. Intermittent wind and rain hampered the preparations as workers in buckets were suspended high over the disaster site.

"They will work as long as it's safe," Fire Chief Tim McConnell said. "The objective is to get this down as quick as possible."

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.


Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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