Unstable building, cranes hamper rescue try in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Rescue workers and search dogs moved gingerly through a dangerously unstable New Orleans hotel Monday in a risky search for the only person still missing after the structure partially collapsed .

Two people are known to have died in Saturday’s disaster and more than 20 were hurt.

Fire Chief Tim McConnell said rescue and stabilization efforts were complicated Monday when experts determined that the second of two cranes towering over the site is unstable. Authorities had known one crane could topple since Saturday. The discovery Monday that both could topple led to a slightly expanded evacuation area around the site, which sits at the edge of the French Quarter and the city’s business district.

Further complicating the efforts: Rain was in the forecast for Monday night and Tuesday. Water gathering in parts of the wreckage would mean more weight on the unstable structure, and it could make parts of the wreckage more slippery, McConnell said.

Rescue workers and search dogs were in and out of the structure Monday, hoping to find the lone missing worker alive. But parts of the building were largely inaccessible, including an area where authorities believe the missing worker is.

“The area we’re talking about, they can’t fully get into because it’s collapsed, a heavy, heavy collapse.”

McConnell stressed that the work is dangerous.

“We are putting our folks at somewhat risk,” McConnell said during an earlier news conference. “When you’re in rescue — you’re trying to get some people out — you take a little more risk.”

Stabilization and cleanup already was expected to take weeks. Discovery that the second crane was in danger added a new element to the efforts to come up with a plan and implement it.

“These cranes are both in a bad situation,” said the city’s Homeland Security director, Collin Arnold. He said numerous experts have been recruited to help with efforts to stabilize the structure and the cranes.

“We’ve got people that have flown in internationally,” said Arnold. We have great minds here and a lot of equipment coming in. It’s just going to be a matter of time before we can figure out a game plan.”

Large sections of two major thoroughfares near the French Quarter and the main business district remained closed, including streetcar tracks and bus routes. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said utilities were cut off to nine major businesses in the area and 37 families have been put up at hotels.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. Officials said the last inspection of record at the site was Sept. 24.

Cantrell pledged the city’s full co-operation in a federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigation of what went wrong.

“We’re going to be as co-operative as necessary, to the fullest extent,” she said at a news conference near the site.

On Sunday, the body of one worker was removed from the site. The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office identified the victim Monday as Anthony Floyd Magrette, 49. In addition to one missing worker, authorities said, the body of another was still in the rubble.

Cantrell said city officials visited Sunday with the only injured person who remained hospitalized, suffering from a leg injury.

Kevin McGill, The Associated Press


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