NOLA Media Group, New Orleans
Crews on the site of the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel New Orleans were preparing Thursday to use explosives to demolish the two heavily damaged cranes balanced perilously on the building, a process that could take 24 hours.
Authorities did not offer a specific time frame for the demolition, but crews are in a race against the clock as potential tropical weather in the Gulf of Mexico could possibly threaten the region by later Friday. The disturbance in the Gulf could become a tropical or subtropical storm later Thursday and authorities are concerned about any winds it will bring to the area.
“The impetus is this weather coming in,” New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “We want to be in control of how this happens. The goal is to try and get it (the demolition) before this weather comes in tomorrow night.”
The demolition, he said, will involve explosives and concentrate on the two cranes.
“I want to be very clear: We’re talking about taking down the cranes only,” McConnell stressed, adding the officials and engineers are taking care during the planning process to make sure lives are not lost in the demolition. “These towers are dramatically damaged.”
“Think about it melting,” he added, painting an image for reporters of how officials hope the cranes will come down once the explosives do their thing. “It comes down right where it is.”
The cranes would fall at the same time. “You may hear several little pops” but it will be done within a couple of seconds and “down very quickly.”
The top floors of the 18-floor structure collapsed suddenly Saturday morning, sending debris to the streets below. Authorities say three people were killed and numerous others were injured.
Crews unsuccessfully searched the site for days for two construction workers who had been in the building when it collapsed Saturday morning and whose bodies had not been retrieved. One body has been recovered. Two others remain in the rubble, authorities said.
McConnell said preparations include making sure area utility lines are protected, including a 24-inch natural gas line “that’s running right down Rampart Street.” Also, he said, “We want to make sure we don’t lose a life.”
The “small explosives” placed by workers in buckets will “damage the cranes in a very methodical way to bring it down in an exact location,” he said.
But the work is extremely dangerous. The top part of one of the cranes — the “T” — alone weighs 145,000 pounds, McConnell said.
He also said the demolition experts will attempt to take down the cranes in a way that will still allow authorities to recover the bodies still in the wreckage. The goal is to have the cranes fall into the building, McConnell said.
McConnell said the evacuation zone will be expanded and emergency personnel will go door-to-door to tell people what precautions to take. He said the expanded evacuation will be sufficient and there is a “very, very high probability that they will come down as these engineers are designing it.”
“I truly believe we’ve got the experts,” McConnell added.
But, he cautioned, while experts will place the explosives and take necessary precautions, the cranes and building are damaged so it’s not a precise science on where they will land.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who participated in the news conference with McConnell, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and others, said the National Weather Service’s most recent possible storm track takes the potential storm further east and farther away from Louisiana.
Still, he said, the potential of elevated winds at the collapse site could spell more disaster.
“Any winds pose a particular danger to the cranes,” Edwards said.
Cantrell said the city has been working with 46 impacted families on housing assistance.
She said a private memorial for the victims of the catastrophe is set for 9 a.m. Friday.
Check back for more on this developing story.
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