The Hard Rock Hotel collapsed 17 months ago; now demolition nears its end The building itself is gone, though heavy equipment still picks at twisted metal, concrete debris

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It was October 12, 2019, and Dolores Merritt had just walked into Fischer’s Jewelry on Canal Street in New Orleans to open the store for the day. She heard a rumble “like a freight train” and saw the street fill with dust. Moments earlier, she and some of her coworkers had been lingering by the elevator into the Hard Rock Hotel, then under construction across the street.

As they stared out the windows of the store, they saw the aftermath of the fatal building collapse: workers scrambling to get out of the wreckage and others rushing to help.

More than 17 months later, and almost a year after wrangling between City Hall and the property developers gave way to a plan to remove the wreckage of the 18-story building, the final visible reminders of that tragic day are almost gone. The building itself, which towered over nearby structures before it entombed the two of the three workers who died in the collapse, is gone. On Tuesday, heavy equipment picked at the few piles of twisted metal and concrete debris that remain on the site.

“It’s over,” Merritt said.
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Photos: Hard Rock Hotel site reduced to rubble as crews scrape up debris
Photos: Hard Rock Hotel site reduced to rubble as crews scrape up debris

The early days of the demolition were marked by a cautious process of picking apart the upper floors in search of the bodies of Jose Ponce Arreola and Quinnyon Wimblerly. They were eventually recovered and returned to their families. The body of the third victim, Anthony Magrette, who was killed when the upper floors fell, was recovered soon after.

When City Hall first greenlit the demolition last year, representatives of 1031 Canal Street Development LLC, the team behind the project led by Mohan Kailas, said they expected the site would be clear by the first anniversary of the collapse in October 2020. Months later, with portions of the building still standing on the site, 1031 Canal attorney Stephen Dwyer said the team expected the site to be cleared by the end of February 2021.

Dwyer did not respond Tuesday to a request to discuss the current timeline. And when asked for an update on the demolition Tuesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s communications director, Beau Tidwell, said the “short answer” was that things “are going well, but they are not done.”

Even once the fences protecting the demolition site come down, it remains to be seen how long it will take to reopen North Rampart Street and the lakebound side of Canal Street or to reconnect their streetcar routes, which were interrupted by the collapse and subsequent recovery and demolition work on the site.

Before anything is reopened, city officials will need to assess any damage to those roads or the infrastructure beneath them, something that was impossible during the demolition both because of the matting placed on the streets to protect them and safety concerns about having inspectors around the site, Tidwell said.

“We are optimistic that it will be sooner rather than later,” Tidwell said. “We do anticipate opening lakebound Canal Street sooner than North Rampart Street, so that will be the next step you see. I can’t give you a timeline on that today.”
At Hard Rock site, New Orleans council wants this big change for any building taking its place
At Hard Rock site, New Orleans council wants this big change for any building taking its place

There’s never been a full accounting of what went wrong and led to the Hard Rock’s collapse, although workers on the site shared videos to social media showing bowed beams on its upper floors. An investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the engineering firm on the projects, Heaslip Engineering, for failures in the design of beams and load-bearing structures as part of the project and cited other companies working on the site.

A fuller picture of the collapse likely will come out of the myriad lawsuits the disaster has spawned.
Fischer’s Jewelry is one of the last businesses near the Hard Rock site still in operation after 1½ years of street closures and safety barriers that have shut down much of the traffic, by foot or by car, to the area. Kathy Fischer, the third-generation owner, scrolled through her phone looking through photos she has taken daily since the collapse. After a slow start to the demolition, Fischer said, the work had been moving more quickly in recent weeks, with the final floors coming down quickly. The final piece, a tower that presumably held an elevator shaft, was picked apart earlier this week, the last remains of the building itself.
Hard Rock demolition is 3 months behind schedule — but the end might be in sight

“I’m sorry the people died and that horrible things happened,” Fischer said. “I’m glad that it’s coming to an end.”

Times-Picayune
BY JEFF ADELSON and JESSICA WILLIAMS | Staff writers

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