A rescue crew pulled one dead person Sunday from the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel under construction in downtown New Orleans, while another body remained inside and a third person was still missing, officials said.con
Search crews were still unable to move above the seventh floor of the severely damaged 18-story building, more than a day after its top floors pancaked, sending tons of concrete and steel tumbling down and toppling a construction lift onto North Rampart Street.
“Our goal is to continue making things safe so we can continue the search deeper and deeper for rescue purposes,” Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said at a news conference Sunday evening. Authorities warned that the compromised structure at Canal and Rampart streets could crumble further.
They also warned of extensive traffic disruptions around a downtown intersection that doubles as a “central hub” for many New Orleans Regional Transit Authority bus lines.
Almost three dozen people were injured from the building’s collapse or while fleeing to safety when the upper floors of the construction site collapsed shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday, with 112 workers on the job. Only one worker remained hospitalized Sunday.
Several workers scurried down scaffolding or inside stairwells to safety.
A towering crane above the construction site was largely detached Sunday, propped up by the rubble left from the building’s collapse. McConnell said two engineers were on the scene, with another headed there to work on the crane operations into the night.
Nearby, at Elk Place, a few loved ones of the few unaccounted-for workers waited for word. “I’ll wait for him forever,” Nova Espinoza said of her husband, Anthony Magrette.
In the meantime, federal workplace safety inspectors will begin their work to determine what caused the collapse.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is tasked with investigating fatal workplace incidents, including construction collapses, and will almost certainly launch a probe.
The agency hasn’t commented yet on the Hard Rock collapse, and OSHA officials didn’t respond to multiple messages on Sunday.
Issues regarding the structural stability of the building are going to be looked at. The structural drawings, the engineering drawings, shop drawings. They’re also going to be looking at: Were those plans followed? Does what happened in the field match what the structural drawings required?
Robert Mongeluzzi, a Pennsylvania attorney who has represented plaintiffs in a pair of lawsuits involving collapsed commercial buildings, said OSHA officials are likely on the scene already.
One ironworker, Medesto Reyes, said he was standing on the 18th floor when he saw the concrete slab begin to crumble about 10 feet from where he stood.
“It started from the edge, and it ran to the back of the building and kept following me. It was like a movie, the concrete falling behind me, and I’m running, and I didn’t think it was going to stop and it didn’t for such a long time,” he said.
“I thought that was it. I thought I was going to die.”
But then it did stop, he said, and Reyes made his way to the seventh-floor terrace.
“It was pandemonium getting down,” Reyes said as he described “people getting stampeded” heading for the seventh floor, where he found other people nursing injuries.
Reyes was headed for the ground floor.
“I knew where the stairwell was, ’cause I’m the one who built it,” he said. “We had a lot of people following us.”
The area is still blocked off from pedestrian and vehicular traffic. About 100 residents have been displaced from their homes due to mandatory evacuations in a zone near the site. Some 30 of those residents have sought assistance through the New Orleans Health Department, officials said.
With Monday workday traffic coming, McConnell urged drivers to find alternative routes as the area of the disaster will remained closed-off.
At the Sunday evening update, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said Canal Street will be closed from South Saratoga Street to Baronne Street. Rampart Street will be closed from Conti Street to Common Street.
“We are asking everyone to stay out of this area,” Ferguson said.
He said Monday is the busiest traffic day for the Central Business District and urged residents to use ride share apps and plan accordingly, wherever they may be going.
Roads of concern because of likely heavier-than-normal traffic include Claiborne Avenue, Esplanade Avenue and Poydras Street, Ferguson said.
“Leave a little bit earlier than you would normally do because there will be a lot of traffic tomorrow,” Ferguson said.