UPDATE: Aug. 18, 2020: New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell announced Monday that the remains of Jose Ponce Arreola, one of three workers killed during the Hard Rock New Orleans hotel collapse in October, has been recovered and removed from the project site.
Ponce Arreola's body was the last remaining in the hotel's structure. According to Phase 3 of the original demolition plan, contractor Kolb Grading will now be able to remove the debris left by three surrounding buildings and start demolition of the partially collapsed steel structure on floors nine through 18 of the Hard Rock.
"Moving forward," Cantrell said, "we will continue to hold ownership accountable, at every level."
UPDATE: Aug. 10, 2020: Crews on Saturday recovered the remains of Quinnyon Wimberly, one of the two workers trapped since October in the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel project in New Orleans. Mayor Latoya Cantrell announced the long-awaited retrieval in a press conference outside the hotel after Wimberly's body was removed from the site.
"It was an intolerable wait," Cantrell said. "The next [step] will be recovering Jose (Ponce Arreola), so we can turn Jose over to his family as well."
Cantrell said the city is still waiting on the full OSHA report about the collapse and wants "justice" served when asked if she would like to see criminal charges against those involved in building the project.
New Orleans Fire Department Chief Tim McConnell said the city would not give a timeline as far as when crews could remove Arreola's body but said it would be "more difficult and complex" because of where it is located within the structure.
- Since the Hard Rock hotel in New Orleans collapsed last October, the bodies of two construction workers have been trapped inside the rubble. At a July 26 court hearing, an attorney for owner/developer 1031 Canal Development shed some insight into why the recovery has taken so long.
- Attorney Kerry Miller told Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese that the previous recovery plan, which had both bodies scheduled for removal by the end of last month, was stymied by problems with Wi-Fi service, which is necessary to operate the remote-control robots that are making their way through the structure's concrete and steel toward the remains of Jose Ponce Arreola and then Quinnyon Wimberly. Newly discovered iron reinforcing bar has also slowed down recovery, as has inclement weather.
- Miller also provided an updated plan, which could see the first of two bodies removed from the structure as early as this week, according to WDSU News.
Attorneys for the city of New Orleans maintain that project manager absences and the demolition contractor's staffing issues have also been a drag on the schedule. 1031 Canal attorneys said the unstable building requires a careful demolition and would not provide a new timeline with contingencies for future delays.
The city and 1031 Canal tried to reach an agreement on a safe recovery plan for months after the collapse and only settled on this latest $8.4 million rendition back in the spring of this year.
As part of the recovery effort, demolition contractor Kolb Grading set a four-phase, six-month schedule that included first removing the tower cranes left standing after the collapse; removal of the bodies; the demolition and removal of surrounding buildings; and the demolition of what remains of the Hard Rock.
The unit that will actually recover the bodies is the Urban Search and Rescue team overseen by the New Orleans Fire Department, according to WGNO.
The families of the three men killed in the collapse, as well as survivors of the accident, have filed lawsuits against 1031 Canal, general contractor Citadel Builders and other contractors who worked on the project.
However, Citadel recently filed an action of its own against the city, seeking police and fire department body camera footage taken on the day of the collapse. Citadel said that aside from the records being of public interest, the footage of the interior and exterior could assist the company in dealing with OSHA citations and the multiple lawsuits filed against it.
Earlier this year, OSHA cited 11 companies in relation to the collapse and fined them a total of $315,536. Heaslip Engineering took the biggest hit from the agency with a $154,214 fine. OSHA tagged Heaslip for not implementing and maintaining an accident prevention program but also found that the firm's designs had flaws.
The city maintains that the records that Citadel is requesting are exempt from public disclosure because "criminal litigation is reasonably anticipated in this matter." There have been no criminal charges filed related to the collapse as of yet.