It has been seven months since the Hard Rock New Orleans hotel collapsed and killed three workers, and a plan to demolish the remaining structure is finally underway.
In the October 2019 tragedy, three workers were killed but search and recovery teams were not able to remove two workers' remains from the building.
Last week, crews started tearing down one of three buildings to the southeast of the hotel property that were not damaged during the incident but need to be removed to allow mobilization space for the cranes and other equipment for the safe demolition of the hotel itself.
Rather than wait for the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission to approve the demolition of the three adjacent buildings, New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell issued an order to demolish the structures instead. The primary motivator, according to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, is safety as hurricane season draws closer.
In his May 5 order, McConnell said, "Should a major storm strike the city during the upcoming hurricane season, the risk of further collapse of the unsafe and unstable [Hard Rock] structure would be greatly exacerbated, so this threat to human life and public safety must be abated immediately."
According to the $8.4 million demolition plan submitted by contractor Kolb Grading, the work will be carried out in four phases, with the schedule based on six 10-hour workdays per week with an allowance for six weather days a month. The entire demolition schedule is six months. The four phases are:
Phase 1. Crews will remove the section of tower crane that fell on top of the Hard Rock structure after an unsuccessful demolition attempt in the weeks following the collapse last year.
In an outline of the demolition plan, Kolb said the unanticipated direction of the crane's fall underscored the unpredictably of implosion, a demolition technique that the city and developer considered before agreeing to a more conventional method.
Phase 2. Once the crane is removed and a protective barrier is erected around the site to protect remaining structures and the public during demolition, recovery of the remains of the two workers killed in the collapse will begin. In its contract, Kolb specified that its staff would not handle remains but would support the operations of those who do.
Kolb will remove loose concrete and steel from floors nine through 18, as well as cantilever slabs, which should allow access to the remains. Implosion, Kolb said, would have left the bodies unrecoverable.
Phase 3. During this phase, Kolb will remove the debris of the three adjacent buildings, also known as "Red Zone" structures. Crews will also demolish the remaining steel structure on the ninth through 18th floors.
Phase 4. The last phase of demolition will see Kolb demolish the concrete portion of the building, the first through eighth floors, and remove all debris. Kolb's plan said another advantage of traditional demolition versus implosion is that crews will be able to haul all debris way from the site "in a safe and orderly fashion" rather than be left with the dangerous job of processing and removing 100-foot-high piles of debris.
There are lawsuits initiated by the victims' families and survivors against 1031 Canal Street Development, general contractor Citadel Builders and other parties to the project, but OSHA has already made a determination as to where fault for the collapse lies.
In April, OSHA cited 11 firms for safety violations that it said contributed to the collapse or other hazardous conditions at the property and fined those companies a total of $315,536. The agency handed out the largest fine, $154,214, to Heaslip Engineering. OSHA blamed the firm for the structure's alleged design flaws and for not implementing and maintaining an accident prevention program.
Other contractors cited and fined in connection to the collapse were Citadel; Suncoast Projects LLC, dba Hub Steel; REY.CO Inc.; F. Mata Masonry LLC; King Company LLC; Hutco Inc.; Regional Mechanical Services LLC.; and Rush Masonry Inc.