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Hard Rock New Orleans: Multiple Failures Led to Deadly Collapse

April 7, 2020
OSHA cites 11 companies in October 2019 hotel project collapse.

Two bodies of construction workers who died in the Hard Rock New Orleans hotel collapse on Oct. 12, 2019 remain in the rubble of the crumbling structure six months later.

Workers were vocal about the project prior to the collapse of the 18-story hotel at 1031 Canal St. They questioned health and safety measures as well as structural integrity.

"It's going to break. Look at this one," a worker explains in Spanish as he takes video. A steel pole shown on camera is warped to the point that it cannot be safely removed. The footage was taken just days before the collapse.

Multiple failures on the part of city officials and building contractors led to the tragic event which killed three workers and injured more than a dozen others. 

Crumbling Bureaucracy

OSHA released a 125-page on Friday, April 3 detailing the alleged failure of 11 different companies to ensure the health and safety of workers on the job site. 

Multiple serious and willful violations were given to the following contractors: Heaslip Engineering LLC of Metairie, La.; Citadel Builders LLC of New Orleans; Suncoast Projects LLC of Groveland, Fla.; HUTCO Inc of Broussard, La.; King Company LLC of New Orleans, Regional Mechanical Services LLC of Metairie, La; Rush Masonary Inc. of Jefferson, La.; REYCO Inc. of Metairie, La.; SS Construction and Consulting LLC of Baton Rouge, La.; Southern Services and Equipment Inc. of Saint Bernard, La.; and F Mata Masonry LLC of Red Oak, Texas.

The report details the design flaws concerned workers captured. The agency cited Heaslip Engineering LLC for a willful violation of the OSH Act of 1970 Section (5)(a)(1), writing:

On or about September 30, 2019, and at times prior thereto and thereafter, workers on floors 8-18 of the multi-story Hard Rock Hotel building were exposed to hazards of falling materials and building collapse. Structural steel connections were inadequately designed, reviewed or approved, affecting the structural integrity of these connections.

The engineering firm received $154,214 in proposed penalties, the most of any companies in the report.

Citadel Builders LLC, the site's general contractor, received serious violations for failing to provide free and unobstructed egress from the building as well as signage. It faces $28,338 in proposed penalties.

Suncoast Projects LLC dba Hub Steel failed to maintain the structural stability of the Hard Rock Hotel project.

Other subcontractors received serious and other-than-serious violations regarding emergency and inadequate egress, lack of training and certified operators, fall hazards and other health and safety violations. 

The amount of the combined penalties for all 12 companies is $315,536.

New Orleans' building inspectors allegedly falsified inspections regarding the structural integrity of the Hard Rock Hotel project months before the collapse.

Local media outlets that obtained vehicle fleet GPS records discovered Eric Treadaway and Julie Tweeter never visited the Hard Rock International construction site despite signing off on critical steps in the building process. 

Data from July 18, 2019, the day Julie Tweeter signed off on the project, shows her car parked at her home for two hours during the time she claimed to be at 1031 Canal St inspecting the Hard Rock Hotel site.

Treadway authorized concrete work on the 14th floor of the building on July 26, 2019 even though he never visited the site.

The city has moved to fire both inspectors. Treadway has resigned.

Since then, New Orleans officials have found widespread discrepancies in 11 of 32 Department of Safety & Permits inspectors following an internal review, according to WWL-TV.

Passing the Blame

The latest published figures estimate the city has spent more than $11.6 million as a result of the collapse to secure the structure and adjust public transportation routes.

These numbers are only the costs incurred between the Oct. 12, 2019 collapse through the end of December 2019.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell extended a state of emergency on Jan. 29, 2020 that grants city officials additional powers to ensure the health and safety of residents, tourists and others.

She declared “the remaining threats to the health, safety, welfare, and property of the residents of the City of New Orleans are still in existence due to the partial demolition of the construction cranes, which have collapsed onto the remaining structure.” Engineers’ inspections reveal the current structure to be unsafe, as well as “a clear threat to human life and public safety, and must be demolished in full.”

Demolition originally was scheduled for March 2020, but that deadline has since passed.

A letter dated Jan. 31, 2020 from Mayor Cantrell to Brian Alexander, Hard Rock International's vice president of business affairs, requested assistance with ongoing costs:

The City of New Orleans ("City") is continuing to reel in responding to the ongoing Hard Rock building collapse disaster. Sadly, the remains of two (2) deceased construction workers are still in the collapsed Hard Rock building, and have not yet been returned to their families. Additionally, significant City resources continue to be expended in responding to this Hard Rock tragedy. Further, as you are aware, the building remains an eye sore in the heart of New Orleans, and has not yet been demolished by property owners.

The letter goes on to request $2.4 million for public safety, emergency equipment, consulting services and emergency supplies.

Hard Rock International has claimed no responsibility in the building process or selection of contractors. The company released a statement on Feb. 13, 2020 questioning why the hotel has not yet been demolished:

It’s important for New Orleans residents to understand Mayor Cantrell declared a state of emergency on Oct. 17, 2019 and no one except the City of New Orleans has had access to this site,"  Officials and experts have repeatedly said that safety concerns at the site prevent access to the victims. While we recognize the instability of the structure has prevented recovery efforts, we remain confused and frustrated at the length of time it has taken to resolve the issue—and have expressed this to the appropriate authorities via official communications.

The company added: Hard Rock International had no involvement or role in the development, design or construction of the building, or in selecting the various contractors and subcontractors hired, we have extended our support and collaboration by providing meals for first responders, providing millions of dollars to remove the cranes, and helping fund advertising and online campaigns to support area businesses impacted by the tragic building collapse. We hope that recovery can happen soon to bring closure to this great city and its residents.

In a press briefing with local media on March 3, city spokesman Beau Tidwell blamed delays in demolition on the building owner, 1031 Canal Development, and demolition contractor D.H. Griffin who have not agreed on a plan.

While authorized personnel have been allowed on the Hard Rock site, he said removing the two workers who died in the initial collapse is still too dangerous.

He explained, “There’s a difference between sending people in to make these inspections in a guided way on the 14th floor than there is in the, frankly, heavy lift of shifting that debris in a very delicate situation in a way that could potentially put more lives at risk.”

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