NEW ORLEANS >> New Orleans officials set off several thundering explosions today intended to topple two cranes that had been looming precariously over the ruins of a partially collapsed hotel, but only one crane appeared to make it to the ground.
The explosions sent off massive clouds of dust. After the dust cleared, part of one crane could be seen hanging over the building while the end of one of the cranes, which was partially obstructed by New Orleans’ landmark Saenger Theater, fell to the ground.
The demolition comes a little over a week after the shocking collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel that was being built near a corner of the city’s historic French Quarter.
The two cranes had been badly damaged when the hotel’s upper floors pancaked onto each other, sending debris tumbling to the street and plumes of dust into the air.
Three workers died in the disaster. The remains of one worker has been removed from the building but the bodies of the other two are still inside. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has said removing those is the next priority after the cranes go down.
The cranes — one around 270 feet high, the other about 300 feet — weigh thousands of tons. They had been tilting dangerously, and officials had feared the towers would come down on their own, possibly smashing into nearby buildings or severely damaging underground gas and electric lines.
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.
On Thursday, officials announced plans to bring down the structures in a controlled demolition. Workers suspended in a small bucket attached small explosives to various locations on the two cranes, with the goal of causing a series of explosions that would weaken the cranes in key locations and cause them to collapse.
Once planned for Friday, the demolition was pushed back to Saturday, then today.
Officials expanded an evacuation zone in the leadup to the detonation, and in an even wider area, vehicles were prohibited and people were told to stay indoors until the demolition was complete. Officials also called on people to stay out of the area and watch the demolition on the television instead of coming down to watch in person.
The cause of the collapse remains unknown. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating and, Cantrell and Fire Chief Tim 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.