Remains of victims in Hard Rock could be removed by hurricane season, according to demolition expert

Updated: Apr. 23, 2020 at 4:03 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A demolition expert for the owners of the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel told an Orleans judge if allowed to move forward he could have the remains of two victims of the collapse site removed by the heart of hurricane season.

And he said Canal Street could also be reopened by around the same time.

With civil court shut down due to COVID-19, Judge Kern Reese called all sides together on Zoom to discuss a timeframe for controlled demolition of the hard rock hotel collapse site, with hurricane season beginning in just over one month.

“Let’s get this thing going, shelter in place could be a silver lining when it comes to demolition,” Norma Jean Mattei, PhD, with UNO civil engineering, said.

Three people were killed in the collapse last October with the remains of two victims still inside and a demolition contractor from Missouri laid out a time table in which he said those bodies could be removed by early July, After three large cranes are put in place to begin removing collapsed sections on the floors above the victims. And timing is critical.

”High wind force can be generated in the wrong direction or an unsafe direction and perhaps have things start sliding again,” Mattei said.

There was a lot of talk about preserving evidence as the demolition unfolds but the city raised concerns about ongoing security in the building suggesting that there have been several unauthorized intrusions.

“It’s going to be critical for them to save the evidence because people will wanna know who to distribute the blame to for all the lawsuits that I can assure you are coming,” Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said.

The wrecking contractor told the judge that three buildings on the Burgundy street side of the collapse site would need to be removed to give demolition cranes 360° access to the site. The expert also said the lower eight floors, which were built as a parking garage are topped with a 3-foot thick structure deck that could absorb falling debris during a controlled demolition.

“There were no design issues with the lower floors he’s got a really strong platform to remove and get the above floors down,” Mattei said.

Hurricane season starts in 37 days and the judge says time is of the essence. Judge Kern Reese gave all sides until Wednesday to respond to outstanding issues so that the city can issue a demolition permit. If that doesn’t happen he says they will have to return to court next Thursday.

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