By ALAN SMASON
A sleepy Shabbat morning was shattered October 12 with a tumultuous roar as tons of concrete, rebar and reinforcing steel shattered to the earth and pancaked floors above, unleashing a cloud of rubble from the Hard Rock Hotel being constructed downtown.
After the dust had settled, police, fire and city safety officials scrambled to determine what had happened and were shocked to learn that at least two workers had been killed in the partial collapse and that a third victim had yet to be located and has now been declared dead. Some 18 of the other 112 workers on site at the time were lucky and escaped serious injury.
But the more emergency responders examined the situation, the more alarmed they became. Two of the constructions site’s 270-foot tall cranes had become unattached from the building. Only debris that had lodged below had kept the structures from plummeting to the street or causing even more damage to nearby buildings like the Saenger Theater.
During the ensuing days, there has been little to report and the likelihood of an additional collapse remains high, according to city officials.
Failures of structures like this are, thankfully, few and far between. While there is no official cause given just yet, contributing factors for these catastrophic failure include shoddy materials being employed or inattention paid or ignoring industry-mandated safety practices.
Aside from the two deaths already connected to this tragedy, hundreds of people have been affected as a mandatory evacuation of the area was imposed and access to streets around the site have been cordoned off. Nearby hostel and hotel workers and guests have been displaced and dozens of vehicles in parking lots remain inaccessible. Businesses remain closed including the Saenger Theater, which sustained damage to its roof and facade. The national tour of “Wicked” was cancelled and future productions such as “The Color Purple” and “Dear Evan Hansen” may also have to bypass New Orleans as a result of the disaster.
This disaster is sad enough due to the loss of life and future losses to area commerce also loom large, but nothing can be done until the two cranes are secured. Then, the tenuous process of removal of the structure can progress and will be ongoing for weeks, if not months. Not only will this impact egress onto Canal Street, Basin Street, Rampart Street, portions of the Central Business District and the French Quarter, but it could certainly affect many of the upcoming Mardi Gras parade routes.
Once the debris is cleared, the final drama will play out in the courts as possible criminal charges are considered and lawsuits seeking damages in the millions are filed.
This is a tragedy of epic proportions and one we must all bear in the interim.