New Orleans hotel collapse leaves 1 dead, 2 still missing

 A large section of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the edge of New Orleans’s historic French Quarter collapsed Saturday amid blinding dust and flying debris, killing one person, injuring more than 20 and leaving two unaccounted for as rescue workers hastened to enter what was left of the largely unstable building.

City officials and Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed the fatality Saturday, while emergency workers prepared to enter the building at 4:30 p.m. ET to locate the two missing.

News outlets report construction workers had to run to safety as the hotel came crashing down. Upper floors began to fall on top of each other before one side of the building fell to the ground below.

Nearby buildings were evacuated and officials and Fire Chief Tim McConnell said only part of the building is considered stable, while an 82-metre crane looming over the wreckage is in danger of collapse — further complicating rescue efforts. 

“There is a very strong possibility of further collapse of this crane right now,” McConnell said.  

WWL-TV aired and tweeted a viewer’s dramatic video of the collapse, prior to news of the fatality.

Neither of the missing people had been spotted, but McConnell said authorities believe they know their approximate locations based on talks with other survivors of the collapse. Another man who had initially been unaccounted for turned out to have been at a local hospital. 

McConnell said one of the missing is believed to be in a relatively stable part of the wrecked building, with the other believed to be in a less stable area.

As search-and-rescue efforts unfolded, police stood sentry around a group of people on the Canal Street median who were believed to be loved ones of the missing.

Damage can be seen after a portion of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction collapsed in New Orleans in this image taken from social media. (Michael Hollister/Reuters)

One woman nearby said she was trying to find out the status of her brother, a worker at the site. She declined to give her name, wiping tears from her eyes as she walked away.

Removal of the damaged crane and cleanup of massive piles of debris promised to be a massive undertaking, and it was unclear how long it would tie up traffic and commerce. The site is at a meeting point of major bus and streetcar lines and two major traffic arteries near the heart of the tourism dependent city’s most popular draw for visitor — the French Quarter. Included in the evacuated area was the Saenger Theatre, where travelling companies perform Broadway Shows regularly.

Evacuees included guests at a hostel across the street from the damaged building. 

“I heard a huge noise and thought it was a plane crashing. Then, the hostel shook,” guest Sue Hurley, 68, told The Associated Press. She said she was reminded of news accounts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Another hostel guest, Michael Arbeiter, 30, from Munich, Germany, said he was just getting out of the shower when the room shook. 

“I’m not sure what happened but they told us to get out of here,” he said. “I’m supposed to stay until Monday. Thank God it was not another 9/11.”

A rescued worker, left, and a firefighter look back at the damaged building after a large portion of a hotel under construction suddenly collapsed in New Orleans on Saturday. (Scott Threlkeld/The Advocate/The Associated Press)

The building was under construction at the corner of Rampart Street and Canal Street, a broad boulevard just outside the French Quarter, lined with restaurants hotels and retailers. Canal, which carries six lanes of traffic divided by a wide median where streetcars roll, separates the Quarter from the city’s main business district.

Officials said 18 other people were transported to hospital from the scene, and “several” others reported to hospitals on their own. No life threatening injuries were reported among the known survivors. 

Edwards visited the scene and urged people to stay away from the area. As dust settled following the morning collapse, twisted metal, concrete pilings and other wreckage covered part of Rampart Street.

“It was a deep rumbling sound,” Matt Worges, who saw the collapse from a nearby building, told The Times-Picayune The New Orleans Advocate. “Like an airplane maybe. It drew my head immediately.”

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