A plan to recover the bodies of two workers killed in the Hard Rock Hotel collapse was delayed indefinitely due to an unspecified issue with equipment used to demolish the building, according to a New Orleans Fire Department spokesman on July 24.
During a press conference, New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said that 1031 Canal Development LLC, the company overseeing construction of the partially collapsed hotel, informed city officials that a planned July recovery of the bodies of Quinnyon Wimberly, 36, and Jose Ponce Arreola, 63, was delayed due to an issue related to the robotic equipment used to dismantle the building.
The company did not release a new timeline, McConnell said.
Attorneys representing the contractors tasked with demolition, however, told an Orleans Parish judge in a July 29 court hearing that one body could be retrieved as soon as this week, according to nola.com.
Additionally, McConnell mentioned the “high risk” in halting the demolition of a building that’s already posing a danger to the public during hurricane season.
“The equipment issues were related to the robot that they were planning to utilize to remove the hanging debris, which causes a risk to the first responders that would do the rescue,” McConnell said. “The building’s unstable, it was already a risk. They need to give us a timeline.”
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The original plan included recovery of the bodies by July and city officials were informed as recent as July 21 that recovery would happen in the same week but received notice on Wednesday that it wouldn’t happen, McConnell said.
“We continue to be in communication with the families, we have informed them of this,” McConnell said. “Obviously they are very disappointed as are we the city.”
A May 4 court ordered the building’s demolition, which began in a piecemeal process on July 13, and is expected to be completed by October, according to City Attorney Sunni LeBeouf.
Wimberly and Arreola, and Anthony Magrette, 49, were killed when the 18-story hotel collapsed on Oct. 12, 2019, trapping their bodies inside.
Magrette’s body was recovered shortly after the incident; Wimberly’s and Arreola’s remain trapped in the rubble.
Additionally, more than a dozen people were injured in the collapse, which occurred at the corner of Canal and North Rampart Street, and created an exclusion zone that closed several blocks in the French Quarter.
The cause of the collapse is under investigation.
Numerous lawsuits were filed against the hotel’s owners as a result of the incident.
The full video of the press conference can be viewed here.