(Photo: The Hard Rock Hotel collapse site. | Infrogmation/CC)
Crews recovered the body of 36-year-old Quinnyon Wimberly from the 11th floor rubble of the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday, 303 days after the building partially collapsed and killed him.
The hotel, located on the corner of Canal and Rampart streets, collapsed on Oct. 12, 2019, killing Wimberly and two other construction workers, 49-year-old Anthony Magrette and 63-year-old Jose Ponce Arreola, and injuring a dozen more people.
Magrette’s remains were recovered the day after the collapse, while Wimberly’s remained trapped inside the hotel ruins for nearly 10 months until last weekend.
The final recovery will be Ponce, whose remains are trapped on the 8th floor of the hotel. Officials didn’t release a timeline on Ponce’s recovery.
Wimberly’s family gathered near the chainlink fence surrounding the site as the process of removing the remains at about 10:45 a.m., when a team slowly lowered his body to street level and was driven away.
The body was immediately taken to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office where an autopsy will first be conducted and then escorted to Baton Rouge for a “thorough” forensic examination, according to New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who added that the investigation could take up to two months.
“It’s necessary because we want to fully document the pain and harm that was caused,” said Cantrell, who held a press conference against the backdrop of the hotel ruins one hour after the recovery effort concluded.
Visibly weeping, Cantrell reprimanded a reporter who asked why the mayor was crying, but later apologized during the press conference. When asked by another reporter if she wants to see criminal charges, Cantrell said the case is moving through the judicial process and that the city has no control.
“I want to see justice for the family as it relates to this tragedy,” Cantrell said. “Words cannot really explain or describe, not only the pain, but the closure they’ve been wanting for 10 months.”
The process of recovering the Wimberly’s remains began with an $8.4 million city-approved demolition plan between Missouri-based Kolb Grading and Marschel Wrecking and hotel developer 1031 Canal Street Development LLC.
The proposed plan will be executed in four phases and expected to be completed by October, or close to the one year anniversary of the collapse.
Demolition started in May with the three structures adjacent to the Hard Rock Hotel site, including at 1019-1025 and 1027 Canal St., following an order by New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell, who determined it was the safest way to demolish the hotel and recover the bodies.
The process eventually reached the Hard Rock building, where crews used excavators and other heavy equipment to dismantle the hotel piece-by-piece near Wimberly’s body, whose recovery was originally slated for July but was delayed due to weather conditions and technical problems, according to McConnell.
McConnell said Saturday’s recovery was conducted with precision and professionally by the recovery team, which included contractors and New Orleans fire, police and other emergency personnel.
The operation was a “significant” step toward closure for Wimberly’s family, said McConnell, who added the long wait has been particularly painful for the recovery team.
“It’s hard,” McConnell said. “I have several members of our department that have been here every day since the start. It has got to be emotional for them too.”