City Council members get an update on Hard Rock demolition plan; removal of bodies to come in second phase

Updated: May. 28, 2020 at 7:35 PM CDT
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Work underway around the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel site.
Work underway around the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel site.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -With work underway to begin addressing the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel construction site, city council members received an update on demolition plans for the tattered structure, as well as assurances that steps are being taken to protect people and nearby structures.

Council members also sought assurances that the bodies of the two construction workers who were killed when part of the building collapsed will be removed in a respectful way from the wreckage.

Walter Zehner is an engineer involved in the demolition plan.

"The upper structure is still unstable and is unsafe so everything that we have done to take this building down has been based upon safety,” said Zehner.

He laid out the phases of the project for the council members. He said Phase A involves removing the tower crane atop the damaged building.

"The part that's hanging across Canal Street, its name is the boom, that's the horizontal piece. They're going to take that down first and then they're going to take down the vertical section and we've calculated how much that thing weighs and we have sized the crane accordingly to be able to handle the weight of that part of the crane,” said Zehner. "There's four phases of this demolition, Phase A, B, C, and D.”

Councilwoman Helena Moreno asked Zehner about the weight of the so-called “boom”.

“If I remember correctly it's around 20,000-something pounds,” said Zehner.

He said it will come down in pieces.

Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer asked about the nearby Saenger Theatre.

"I'm sure the public would like to know what necessary precautions are being made in terms of protecting the Saenger which is right there across the street and the matting that will be utilized,” said Palmer.

Zehner replied, "The Saenger is outside of the drop zone or the red zone as we call it, so the Saenger is really not in any danger of receiving damage and the cranes are going to be working away from the Saenger. In fact, we actually have set up a vibration monitor right on the corner of Rampart and Canal which would check any vibration that would affect the Saenger.

Zehner said the extraction of the bodies of the two workers will happen during the second phase.

"Phase B is to remove the existing debris that has fallen on the Rampart Street side and also to recover the two remains,” he said.

Councilmembers sought assurances that the retrieval of the workers’ remains will be done in a respectful way.

“Tell me about how you will do this in a respectful manner,” said Moreno.

Zehner said he did not have specifics because the recovery of the bodies would be done by the fire department’s rescue team, but he agrees it should happen in a way that maintains the integrity of the men and expressed confidence that would ultimately happen.

“I agree with you it has to be done respectfully,” he said.

Once the bodies are recovered the demolition plan moves to Phase ‘C’ and then Phase ‘D’.

"We're trying to get the steel structure which is the unstable part down by the middle of July which is before our peak hurricane season because obviously we don't want this building standing with a hurricane coming,” said Zehner.

He said the entire demolition project should be completed by mid-September.

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