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Hard Rock Victim Recovery Could Begin At The End Of This Week

Ben Depp
The partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans as seen from across I-10 on April 7, 2020.

Recovery of the remains of two workers killed in the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site last October could begin at the end of this week or early next week, New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

McConnell said significant progress was made over the weekend when contractors removed the two sections of a large tower crane that collapsed along with the construction site.

“That allows us to move to the next phase, which is a significant phase, to begin preparing for the actual recovery,” McConnell said of the remains of the two workers still trapped in the rubble.

McConnell said contractors hired by the hotel’s developer will now begin peeling away the collapsed sections hanging from the building’s edges this week, bit by bit. That will clear a path for the city’s recovery team to locate and retrieve the remains of workers Quinnyon Wimberly and Jose Ponce Arreola.

The precise location of Quinnyon Wimberly’s body has not been identified, McConnell said.

It’s difficult to pin down an exact day for the recovery effort because everything depends on how quickly crews can remove debris from upper floods and “how the building reacts,” he added.

“If that building starts to shift or do something that, you know, we can’t control, that will change our timeline.”

Once the remains are recovered, crews will methodically demolish the building, floor by floor, from the top down. McConnell could not say when the building’s demolition would be complete but said he hoped most of the top floors would be removed “before we get too much deeper into storm season.”

An attorney for the hotel’s developer, 1031 Canal Development LLC, told WGNO on Sunday that the demolition was on track to be completed by the end of September or early October.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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