NEW ORLEANS —
One person was killed and two others were missing after a part of the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed without warning on Saturday morning.
While city officials initially said 18 people were treated for injuries, they updated that numbered to include those “in the double digits” who arrived at local hospitals who were taken by EMS.
While three people were originally reported missing, officials said one of those victims was actually at a hospital receiving treatment. The two still unaccounted for, however, were believed to be trapped inside two different parts of the building.
City leaders closed a large part of the area and were evacuating other buildings near Canal and North Rampart streets because of concerns that more of the Hard Rock, which was still under construction, could fall.
“It is still very unstable,” New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said of the building. “This will be a marathon.”
McConnell likened the rescue operation for those missing to the aftermath of an earthquake.
Everyone who was hospitalized following the collapse was reported to be in stable condition, city officials said.
The collapse happened about 9:12 a.m.
Eyewitness video provided to WWL-TV shows the top floors begin to collapse on top of one another before the wall on the North Rampart Street side of the building crashed to the ground below. Workers could be seen in the video running to safety on Rampart as the collapse happened.
Two large cranes were being used to build the high rise. One swayed precariously after the building collapsed, and bits and pieces of debris continued to fall to the ground below.
“The crane is still in place, but it’s unsupported,” McConnell said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards was on the scene and said the 270-crane also worried him. “When you see the crane listing away from the building … this is very serious.”
The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.
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Rampart Street was littered with debris, including concrete and mangled steel. One man in a safety vest sat on the curb and appeared to hold the side of his head while wincing.
The Hard Rock Hotel was planned as an 18-story building with 350 rooms that would’ve also had 62 condominiums. It was initially set to open this spring.
Following the incident, Hard Rock International released a statement extending sympathies to the victims and saying they had no involvement with construction of the building.
“Citadel Builders LLC was contracted by Kailas Companies, owner of the project, to build the Hard Rock Hotel based on a brand licensing agreement with Hard Rock International, the future manager of the hotel. Hard Rock has had no involvement in the construction of the project. We want to extend our deepest sympathies to victims of this tragic accident and to their loved ones and friends,” the statement read.
The corner where it was under construction was for decades was home to a Woolworth’s.
The store, which was the site of lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement, closed years ago, and the building remained vacant until it was demolished in 2014.
Plans to build a new structure on the site had been in the works since at least 2007, when developer Mohan Kailas bought the building for $3.6 million after plans for another redevelopment project fell through.
That project came to a halt in 2013 when Praveen Kailas pleaded guilty to fraudulently billing a state Katrina recovery program.
Praveen Kailas, the son of Mohan Kailas, had been the public face of the project before pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government funds and one count of theft of government funds. The theft scheme was exposed by WWL-TV in 2012, leading directly to the federal criminal investigation.
Praveen Kailas served almost two years in federal prison.
Kailas Cos. remains a partner in the Hard Rock project. Crews recently began work at the corner.
Prior iterations of the project raised concerns that the building’s modern appearance would clash with the French Quarter, while others argued it would not pay enough respect to the site’s ties to the civil rights movement.
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