Hotel collapse in New Orleans leaves two dead, one missing

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A large section of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction beside New Orleans’ historic French Quarter collapsed last Saturday amid blinding dust and flying debris, killing two people and injuring more than 20. Rescue workers searched the largely unstable building for one person still unaccounted for.

Nearby buildings were evacuated. A 82-metre construction crane — one of two still looming over the multistorey building — also was dangerously unstable, fire officials said. The hunt for the missing was suspended at nightfall over safety concerns. A statement from the project contractor said its representatives would work “throughout the night” with emergency officials on a plan to stabilise the building.

“I heard a huge noise and thought it was a plane crashing,” said Sue Hurley, a 68-year-old guest at a hostel across the street that shuddered with the force of the collapse. Hurley said she was reminded of news accounts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

WWL-TV aired and tweeted a viewer’s dramatic video of upper floors falling on top of each other before one side of the building crashed to the street.

Another video on social media showed what looked like a metal structure — part of the building or a piece of construction equipment — tumbling to the ground and people running from the scene as clouds of dust billowed up, obscuring the view like a thick fog.

“I’m not sure what happened, but they told us to get out of here,” said Michael Arbeiter, 30, from Munich, Germany, a hostel guest who said he was just getting out of the shower when his room shook. “Thank goodness it was not another 9/11.”

The Hard Rock Hotel, which was under construction, after a fatal partial collapse in New Orleans. PHOTO: AP

Officials said 18 people were taken to the hospital and several others went to the hospital on their own. They said none of their injuries was believed to be life threatening.

Urban search and rescue teams entered a section of the building Saturday in hopes of finding two missing people alive, said Fire Chief Tim McConnell. Authorities later said one of the missing was dead.

Meanwhile, authorities were keeping a wary eye on the unstable crane looming over the building. “There is a very strong possibility of further collapse of this crane right now,” McConnell said.

Citadel Builders LLC, the contractor on the project, said more than 100 workers were on site at the time of the collapse. An e-mail from spokesman Brian Trascher said company officials were working with emergency workers on a plan to stabilize the building.

Louisiana Govwrnor John Bel Edwards visited the site and took part in news briefings soon after the collapse. The Democrat was defending his seat in a primary election last Saturday that forced him into a runoff next month.

The hotel was under construction at the corner of Rampart Street and Canal Street, a broad boulevard just outside the Quarter that is lined with restaurants hotels and retailers. Canal, which carries six lanes of traffic divided by a wide median where streetcars roll, separates the Quarter from the city’s main business district.