NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans' fire chief says it's taking longer than expected to remove the bodies of two construction workers from a hotel that partially collapsed during construction 10 months ago.
Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said Monday that crews expect to retrieve the body of Quinnyon Wimberly from the Hard Rock Hotel wreckage by the end of this week, and that of Jose Ponce Arreola around the middle of next week.
He had said last Monday that he hoped to have both bodies out by the end of that week. In a news conference livestreamed by TV stations, McConnell said a change in plans was the main reason for the delay.
"We lost a day and a half last week to bad weather," he said. But mainly, he said, the demolition company wants to give its cranes more maneuvering room by collapsing a freestanding wall that has been cabled to the wreckage to stabilize it.
Once that's done, crews must delicately chip away at the slumped wreckage of floors and balconies dangling by rebar and I-beams. They'll start at the 18th floor and remove rubble as they work down from there to the 11th floor, where Wimberly's body is located, McConnell said.
Starting Wednesday, a no-fly zone will keep drones away from the site, he said: "This is a tricky operation and we want to make sure everyone is safe."
"The other victim is in a pile of debris in the middle of the deck of the 8th floor," McConnell said.
He said he and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell had been meeting weekly with the men's families, and have been in daily touch with them since Thursday.
Three people died in the Oct. 12 building collapse. Anthony Magrette's body was recovered shortly afterward. The other men's bodies remained in the wreckage as the city and building developer argued about how best to bring the rest of the building down.
"We're at more than 10 months now," McConnell said. "It's very frustrating for rescuers who do this for a living. It's even more so for the families."