Ho­tel col­lapse leaves one dead, two miss­ing

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By CHEVEL JOHN­SON and KEVIN McGILL

NEW OR­LEANS — A large sec­tion of a Hard Rock Ho­tel un­der con­struc­tion at the edge of New Or­leans’ his­toric French Quar­ter col­lapsed Satur­day amid blind­ing dust and fly­ing de­bris, killing one per­son and in­jur­ing more than 20 as res­cue work­ers rushed into what was left of the largely un­sta­ble build­ing to lo­cate two peo­ple still un­ac­counted for.

Nearby build­ings were evac­u­ated and a 270-foot (82-me­ter) con­struc­tion crane — one of two still loom­ing over the mul­ti­story build­ing — also was dan­ger­ously un­sta­ble, fire of­fi­cials said.

“I heard a huge noise and thought it was a plane crash­ing,” said Sue Hur­ley, 68, a guest at a hos­tel just across the street that shud­dered with the force of the ex­plo­sion. 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 the col­lapse, show­ing up­per floors fall­ing on top of each other be­fore one side of the build­ing crashed to the ground.

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 God it was not an­other 9/11.”

Of­fi­cials said 18 peo­ple were taken to the hos­pi­tal from the scene 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 the two miss­ing peo­ple alive, said Fire Chief Tim McCon­nell. He said au­thor­i­ties be­lieve they knew their ap­prox­i­mate lo­ca­tion based on talks with other sur­vivors of the col­lapse. One of the two was be­lieved to be in a rel­a­tively sta­ble part of the wrecked build­ing; the other, in a less sta­ble area.

Mean­while, au­thor­i­ties were keep­ing a wary eye on an un­sta­ble con­struc­tion 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 email from spokesman Brian Trascher said com­pany of­fi­cials were work­ing with emer­gency work­ers on a plan to sta­bi­lize the build­ing.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards was on the scene tak­ing part in news brief­ings soon after the col­lapse. The Demo­crat was de­fend­ing his seat in a pri­mary elec­tion Satur­day against two ma­jor Repub­li­can op­po­nents. Ed­wards was hop­ing for an out­right win to avoid a Novem­ber runoff.

The new Hard Rock Ho­tel was un­der con­struc­tion at the cor­ner of Ram­part Street and Canal Street, a broad boule­vard just out­side the Quar­ter, 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.

As search and res­cue ef­forts un­folded, po­lice stood sen­try around a group of peo­ple on the Canal Street me­dian who were be­lieved to be loved ones of the miss­ing. A woman nearby said she was try­ing to find out the sta­tus of her brother, a worker at the site. She de­clined to give her name, wiping tears from her eyes as she walked away.

Re­moval of the dam­aged crane and cleanup of mas­sive piles of de­bris promised to be a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing ex­pected to tie up traf­fic and com­merce. The site is next to two ma­jor traf­fic ar­ter­ies where ma­jor bus and street­car lines in­ter­sect. Among area build­ings evac­u­ated was the Saenger The­atre, where trav­el­ing com­pa­nies per­form Broad­way Shows reg­u­larly.

Hard Rock In­ter­na­tional is­sued a state­ment Satur­day ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy for vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. The state­ment said the com­pany had a li­cens­ing agree­ment with the build­ing’s owner, Kailas Com­pa­nies, and Hard Rock had no in­volve­ment in the con­struc­tion. It iden­ti­fied the con­trac­tor on the project as Citadel Builders LLC.

Citadel is­sued a state­ment ex­press­ing its con­do­lences for the death and in­juries but did not com­ment on a pos­si­ble cause of the col­lapse.

Kailas did not re­spond to mes­sages left seek­ing com­ment Satur­day night.

The Ad­vo­cate via AP

Con­struc­tion work­ers look on after a large por­tion of a ho­tel un­der con­struc­tion sud­denly col­lapsed in New Or­leans on Satur­day.

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