A plan to use explosives to topple two giant cranes leaning precariously over the crumbled remains of a partially collapsed hotel must be delayed by a day, city officials said Saturday, saying that the cranes were more damaged than previously thought.
Officials said at a press conference that the demolition, scheduled for Saturday, will take place on Sunday, no earlier than noon. Fire Chief Tim McConnell said the delay was caused by the damage to the cranes.
“As they got up and got closer they found out some things about it that have changed the way they are going to take it down, some of the methodology they are going to use, and that’s going to take a little longer for them to accomplish,” he said. “The cranes are more damaged than they thought.”
The towers — one around 270 feet (82 meters) high, the other about 300 feet (91 meters) — weigh tons and have loomed over the wreckage for a week. The Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the corner of Canal and Rampart Streets at the corner of the historic French Quarter partially collapsed Oct. 12, killing three workers. Two bodies remain in the unstable wreckage and Mayor LaToya Cantrell said recovering the remains would be a top priority once the area was rendered safe.
If the plans succeed, the towers will drop vertically, sparing neighboring structures that include the Saenger Theatre and the New Orleans Athletic Club, both built in the 1920s. Officials said shelter would be provided for anyone needing it as a result of an evacuation around the site.
In a still-wider area, traffic was to be prohibited and people would be ordered to stay indoors until the demolition is complete and an all-clear is given.
Officials said Saturday that they would give residents who needed to evacuate four hours notice ahead of the planned demolition. Cantrell also said she would not authorize the use of explosives during the night.
Officials have repeatedly stressed that fluidity of the situation and that they are adjusting as necessary, depending on the information they are getting from experts brought in to help develop a plan to take down the looming cranes.
“We’ve told you that this is a very dangerous building. The cranes are still in a precarious situation,” McConnell said. He said at least one of the cranes was leaning more Saturday morning than it was the day before.
“It shifted and didn’t come back, which tells me it’s weakening,” he said.
On Saturday, workers suspended in a basket held by a crane could be seen high over the wreckage, working on the cranes. Down below, streets in one of the busiest parts of town had been closed off and tents set up in the center of Canal Street where the city’s famous red street cars usually roll back and forth.
Dozens of tourists, employees and local residents were milling around on the street, taking photos. But officials have said repeatedly that they do not want people to come downtown to watch the demolition in person.
“We prefer people to not be out here when this thing happens,” McConnell said. “It’s a dangerous operation.”
Experts, including engineers who worked on demolitions following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, were called in to try to come up with a plan to clear the site and prevent further injury and damage before the cranes fell on their own.
Heightening the urgency was the approach of Tropical Storm Nestor, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday but the storm ended up tracking well east of the city.
On Thursday, officials announced plans to attach explosives to the structures. Once planned for Friday, the demolition was pushed back to Saturday before being pushed back again to Sunday. Intermittent wind and rain Friday hampered the preparations as workers in buckets were suspended high over the disaster site but by Saturday, the skies had cleared.
The cause of the collapse remains unknown. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating and, Cantrell and McConnell said, evidence gathering began soon after the collapse.
Lawsuits are already being filed on behalf of some of the more than 20 people injured against the project’s owners and contractors.
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