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NOLA Council to Investigate Hard Rock Collapse

Monday, February 3, 2020

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Last week, 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.

These hearings are in addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigation, the Louisiana Office of the Inspector General’s investigation and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s corruption investigation into the city’s Department of Safety and Permits, which was recently expanded to include the Hard Rock project.

What Happened

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.

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.

Although the collapse has since undergone an investigation, 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.

However, nola.com also reported that investigators used video evidence taken from ground level to piece together the possible cause of the incident.

According to Donald Dusenberry, a consulting principal at a Massachusetts consulting firm who authored a report for the American Society of Civil Engineers on the damage to the Pentagon from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the video is “invaluable” and shows a progressive or disproportionate collapse—a cascading series of failures, verses a singular issue.

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.

As a result of the controlled demolition, one crane was reported to have impaled and damaged a sewer line on Rampart Street—which was expected, according to the city—and broke three windows at the Saenger Theater and others at the historic Roosevelt Hotel.

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, nola.com 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 the two deceased workers.

Thus far, post-collapse recovery and repair costs are reported to have reached more that $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 New Orleans 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 afterall.

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.

What Now

City Council President Helen Moreno commented that the council felt it was their duty to the men and to their families to “ask questions, to review information, to dig deep because answers and justice is what they deserve. It is our duty to provide oversight on the path forward."

The committee, which consists of all seven city council members, will reportedly not intervene in any of the other investigations, Moreno said.

This statement comes after Cantrell penned a letter to council with concerns saying that the hearings could delay the demolition timeline and could undermine the other investigations.

"Your decision to move forward with a Special Council Hearing, in an effort to provide a forum for the public to air its frustration with the Hard Rock Hotel Collapse, is ill-advised at this time and puts the timely demolition and the ongoing investigation of the site at-risk," Cantrell said. "Given these concerns, my staff will not be present at the hearing."

Moreno noted that Inspector General Derry Harper also objected to the council’s plan for independent hearings.

 

 

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Demolition; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Hotels; NA; North America; OSHA; Safety

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