A controlled demolition was initially set to take place Friday, but officials decided to hold off after crews inspecting the structures realized that bringing them down would be more hazardous than they originally believed. After tweaking their plans, crews could now begin the operation as early as noon Sunday, officials said.
“As they got up there and got close to it they found out some things about it that have changed the way they’re going to take it down,” New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said in a news conference Saturday. “Safety is the number one concern, and when they tell us it’s too dangerous to do it one way and they want to do it in another way, we’re going with the experts.”
On Sunday morning, city authorities ordered people to leave the temporary evacuation zone around the site.
The cranes were heavily damaged when several floors of the 18-story building came crashing down on Oct. 12. For days, the structures have swayed precariously over the site of the collapse, stirring fears that they could topple in any direction and cause further damage. One crane stands about 270 feet, the other about 300 feet. Both have long boom arms that can be seen extending out over the wreckage of the building.
After consulting with demolition experts, city officials on Thursday announced plans to attach explosive charges to the towers. The goal is to detonate them in a precise sequence that will send the structures cascading into the footprint of the building without damaging surrounding streets or other infrastructure in the area, NOLA.com reported.
But officials cautioned that the cranes might not drop in the clean, controlled manner experts are hoping for. “That’s our goal, but it might not happen that way,” McConnell said.
According to McConnell, one of the cranes shifted over the weekend and did not sway back, causing it to rub against the building’s concrete. That likely means it is weakening, he said.
“The plan is to make sure we’re prepared for whatever happens,” McConnell said. “It is a damaged crane. You’re not bringing down something that’s new construction. This thing is being brought down because it’s highly damaged.”
Officials are planning to evacuate residents in a roughly four-block radius surrounding the site. The city has also established a temporary “exclusion zone” where people must stay indoors and a traffic closure zone extending several blocks farther. Additionally, the city has set up a relocation center across town where displaced residents can ride out the demolition. Workers are going door to door to tell people what they need to do and will give residents four hours’ notice before the explosions begin, officials said.
“The controlled detonation will be very loud. The best way to protect you & your family is to stay away until the all clear is given from the City,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) tweeted Saturday night.
The demolition of the cranes — if it goes according to plans — is just one step in what is sure to be a long, laborious and expensive response to the deadly collapse.
Emergency workers on Monday removed the body of Anthony Magrette, a construction worker who died when the floors of the 18-story building came crashing down. But in its current state, the mass of steel and concrete is so unstable that crews have been unable to remove the bodies of the two other men killed inside.
Some of the people injured in the collapse on Friday filed a lawsuit against the companies involved in the hotel construction, as ABC News reported. The lawsuit accuses the companies of negligence, saying they used inferior construction materials that were not strong enough to support the weight of the upper floors. It is not clear if the companies have responded to the allegations.