Two years later: Hard Rock collapse

FILE - This Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, shows damage of a partial collapse at the Hard Rock...
FILE - This Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, shows damage of a partial collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)(Gerald Herbert | AP)
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It’s been two years since the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed in New Orleans, and progress cleaning up and holding those responsible for the tragedy has been slow.

The building is now gone, demolished in January of 2021. The last of the rubble was cleared from the historic French Quarter only in April. A barren lot fenced with chain-link is all that remains. Two blocks of N. Rampart Street, which separates the site from the iconic Saenger Theatre, are still closed.

An investigation into the missteps that led to the deadly collapse has prompted new city rules, but criminal charges have yet to be filed against developers, engineers, or inspectors who signed off on city inspections, despite GPS data showing their vehicles were never at the site on the dates in question.

Investigations are pending; calls for criminal charges are still hanging; litigation is still working its way through the courts. Repairs to nearby buildings, streetcar service, roads, and sidewalks are underway - stalled repeatedly by equipment issues, a global pandemic, and inclement weather.

Jason Williams, the Orleans Parish district attorney, says his office is waiting on final findings from OSHA before he can build prosecutions, but time may be running out. Some criminal charges must be filed within two years.

The city’s Office of Inspector General suggested felony charges be filed against city employees for their actions in connection with the collapse.

Three people were killed when the upper floors of the 18-story building collapsed on Oct. 12, 2019, Anthony Floyd Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreola, and Quinnyon Wimberly.

For nearly a year, Wimberly and Arreola’s bodies dangled above downtown New Orleans, covered only by tarps.

Irene Wimberly told the Washington Post when she finally laid her head down on her son’s body bag, she rubbed it with her cheek. “All I could feel was bones.”

Magrette’s body was recovered two days after the collapse.

Wimberly’s father said he wants someone to go to prison. This wasn’t an “incident,” he told The Post. “This is a murder … This was negligence.”

Continuing coverage:

The future of the Hard Rock site is still in question, and New Orleans City Council members have taken steps to make sure another high-rise doesn’t go in that site. Earlier this year, Council members supported a motion to revoke the developer’s site permit, given that the Hard Rock would have been three times taller than city regulations would otherwise allow.

However, plans for a new Canal Street high-rise are still in place. A month after having permits revoked, 1031 Canal Development LLC filed a lawsuit saying the decision was “capricious.”

The developers released a statement Tuesday morning on the two-year anniversary of the collapse:

Today, the owner of the 1031 Canal project joins many others in remembering those who were victims of the tragedy which occurred two years ago, as well as remaining mindful of their families. In the months ahead, ownership looks forward to the release of the remaining OSHA investigation results which may potentially bring some closure to all those affected by this incident.

On this anniversary it should also be recalled that, after thorough investigative efforts, OSHA specifically did not implicate the owner in any way, but instead cited Heaslip Engineering and HUB Steel for multiple structural failures related to beams, columns and connections. These professionals were trusted by the owner to determine the means and methods to safely construct the building.

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