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Final Body Removed from NOLA Hard Rock

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

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The third and final body has been removed from the New Orleans Hard Rock construction site, 10 months after the structure partially collapsed.

The remains of Jose Ponce Arreola, 63, were removed from the site just before 4 p.m. on Monday, according to officials.

"We are grateful to finally have some measure of closure for both families who had to experience an intolerable delay," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement.

The recovery comes about nine days after the retrieval of the body of Quinnyon Wimberly, 36. That recovery happened weeks after the initial schedule, after officials went before a judge late last month citing technical difficulties, weather and workers as reasons for the delay.

At the end of July, Judge Kern Reese, who is overseeing several of the lawsuits, called a hearing after hearing reports of the body recovery delays.

Paul Thibodeaux, an attorney for the developers, argued that it was a matter of timeline versus safety.

According to Thibodeaux, after cranes removed crumbled concrete around Arreola’s body, they encountered pieces of the structure that were still held together with rebar. Robots then had to break apart the slabs in order to access Arreola’s remains.

Accident Background

Around 9 a.m. on Oct. 12, part of the Hard Rock Hotel building gave way, resulting in a partial collapse of the structure, with more than 30 injuries and three worker fatalities. Project officials have reported that initial damages were caused by the collapse of floors six through eight, which resulted in additional damage spread throughout a large portion of the building.

Infrogmation, CC-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The third and final body has been removed from the New Orleans Hard Rock construction site, 10 months after the structure partially collapsed.

In the safety efforts that followed the incident, 10 surrounding buildings were evacuated as electricity and gas to the buildings and condominiums were turned off, while damage to the roof of the neighboring historic Saenger Theater caused the cancellation of many scheduled performances.

According to New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell, a crane weighing several tons that was attached to the Hard Rock was also damaged and unstable. Due to these various factors and hazardous conditions, search teams were only able to recover one of the bodies of the deceased.

Metairie, Louisiana-based Citadel Builders was identified as the general contractor on the Hard Rock construction project, which was slated to be an 18-story, 350-room hotel near the city’s French Quarter. The hotel was expected to open sometime this year.

Cantrell told ABC News at the time that all preliminary information on the structure showed that all proper permits had been obtained and that everything was up to code.

Eight days following the hotel’s partial collapse, an evacuation order was put into effect as two cranes were imploded on the construction site—a decision that made the overall site safer than its collapse on Oct. 12, according to reports.

Lawsuits & Demolition

By November, at least 12 lawsuits were already reported to be filed for damages against Citadel Builders and other defendants including: 1031 Canal Development LLC, developer Kailas Companies, Harry Baker Smith Architects, Heaslip Engineering and All Star Electric in civil court.

While the lawsuits vary, the allegations have included project negligence, delays, design changes, “shortcuts” and failure to provide a safe work environment as just a few of the reasons believed to be the cause of the incident.

Around the same time, Cantrell told reporters that, “The building is so unstable that no engineer would sign off on even partial demolition,” and that plans were in motion for a full demolition of the structure that could involve the use of controlled explosives.

Following up with Cantrell’s predictions, reported in November a plan to implode the structure as early as January, followed by three months of cleanup. Once demolished, crews intended to locate and recover the remains of two deceased workers still located within the rubble.

At that time, post-collapse recovery and repair costs are reported to have reached more than $6 million, with $2.4 million going to public safety, police and payroll; $1.2 million to street repairs; $850,000 to the Regional Transit Authority for infrastructure damages; $847,500 for theatre repairs and lost revenue; and $700,000 for debris removal, equipment and other miscellaneous costs.

The Advocate also reported that the building’s owners and their insurers have paid $5 million for the failed crane demolitions that took place last month.

Regarding these expenses, the city has announced that it plans to pass these costs off to the entity found responsible for the collapse. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation has been launched since the tragedy, and the agency has opened various inspection cases. The New Orleans Police Department is also investigating the incident as part of “unclassified deaths.”

In December, though, Hard Rock Hotel developer 1031 Canal Development LLC announced a new conventional demolition plan for the city's partially collapsed structure, concluding that implosion methods would not be used to demolish the structure, after all.

In fact, at the beginning of the year, authorities released a demolition timeline, reporting that a full demolition will take place in December 2020 at the earliest, adding that stabilization of the building will take place on May 7.

At the end of January, the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to form a special committee that will hold hearings on the October 2019 collapse of the under-construction Hard Rock Hotel as well as the recovery and demolition efforts that are ongoing. This was met with some criticism, as Cantrell went on record with concerns that the hearings will put the official investigations at risk.

Inspections and Fines

In February, New Orleans radio station WWLT reported that New Orleans officials suspended two building inspectors after allegations surfaced that they falsified reports for the Hard Rock Hotel New Orleans project, just months before the structure partially collapsed.

Julie Tweeter and Eric Treadaway were suspended for 30 days without pay for submitting reports that said they had inspected several projects (including the Hard Rock) despite GPS data that failed to locate them at the premises during the time the reports claimed.

Investigative reporter David Hammer also noted that he had a recording of a meeting among inspectors and building officials that allegedly captured field inspectors being chastised for filing false reports.

One of the alleged falsified reports was from Tweeter, in which she “approved” the work prior to crews pouring concrete on the top floors.

In addition to the falsifications, the Advocate reported that several inspectors that were approving work were not properly licensed. Tweeter, for example, had allegedly inspected the Hard Rock at least four times before she obtained her commercial building inspector’s license.

Earlier this year, Treadaway resigned from his position.

Most recently, in April, OSHA cited and fined 11 firms in connection with the collapse, proposing fines totaling $315,536.

Of the 11 firms, Heaslip Engineering was given the largest fine—$154,214—and the only willful citation.

Those alleged violations were that:

  • The company's work resulted in design flaws such as the floor beams on the 16th floor being under-designed in load capacity;
  • The western side exterior bay was not tied into a rigid portion of the structure for floors nine through 15 between column lines one and nine; and
  • Cantilevers on the 17th and 18th floors exceeded the manufacturer's guidance for maximum spans.

Suncoast Projects LLC had the second-highest total fines at $37,191 and was cited for:

  • Failure to maintain the required material safety data sheets for the chemicals it used on the project;
  • Failure to provide adequate worker training on the proper use and handling of those materials;
  • Failure to ensure free and unobstructed egress from the building for structural steel workers on the seventh through 18th floors; and
  • Failure to furnish workers with adequate personal protective equipment.

Other safety violations/fines included general contractor Citadel Builders LLC ($28,338), REY.CO Inc. ($23,697), F. Mata Masonry LLC ($12,723), King Company LLC ($12,145), Hutco Inc. ($10,794), Regional Mechanical Services LLC ($9,446), Rush Masonry Inc. ($9,446), Southern Services and Equipment Inc. ($9,446) and S&S Construction and Consulting LLC ($8,096).

In an emailed statement, the attorney for Heaslip said that the company “adamantly disputes the findings.”


At the beginning of May, crews started tearing down one of three buildings near the property that was not damaged, but needed to be removed for the demolition of the site.

McConnel issued an order to demolish the structures instead of waiting for the OK from the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commissions, a move that McConnell credited to hurricanes.

"Should a major storm strike the city during the upcoming hurricane season, the risk of further collapse of the unsafe and unstable [Hard Rock] structure would be greatly exacerbated, so this threat to human life and public safety must be abated immediately,” he said in the May 5 order.

In the final demolition plan, submitted by contractor Kolb Grading, the four phases of the $8.4 million plan are to be carried out on a six 10-hour workday-per-week schedule.

The phase plans are as follows:

  • Phase One – Crews remove the section of the tower crane that fell following the collapse last year. (It’s the unanticipated direction of the crane’s fall that is cited as the main reason to not implode the site.)
  • Phase Two – Once the crane is removed and a protective barrier is erected, officials will begin the recovery of the remains of the two workers who were killed in the collapse and could not be reached. The contractor will remove loose concrete and steel from floors nine through 18, as well as cantilever slabs, which should provide access to the remains.
  • Phase Three – Debris will be removed from the adjacent buildings that are being torn down (known as Red Zone structures). Crews will also demolish the remaining steel from the ninth through 18th floors.
  • Phase Four – The concrete portion of the building will be demolished.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Commercial Construction; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Hotels; NA; North America

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