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Sincerely Stefanie: City of New Orleans Needs to Recover Victims of Hard Rock Collapse

Feb. 14, 2020
Workers' bodies remain in the rubble at Hard Rock New Orleans construction site.

As Valentine’s Day passed, significant others, friends and gathered to celebrate with one another.

Thousands participated in Fat Tuesday activities on Bourbon Street, seemingly unaware they were just a half-mile away from 1031 Canal St., the site of the Oct. 12, 2019 Hard Rock Hotel collapse.

The bodies of 63-year-old Jose Ponce Arreola and 36-year-old Quinnyon Wimberly remain in the rubble, two construction workers who will never again share love with their families. As of press time, the city of New Orleans has yet to take action to recover them.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell posted the following statement after one worker’s body, which was hastily covered with a tarp following the collapse, became exposed in late January 2020,

“A tarp put in place to conceal the remains of one of the victims of the Hard Rock collapse has been shifted by the wind---exposing those remains. The condition of the building and the altitude above street level complicate efforts to replace the tarp, as they have prevented recovery thus far.”

She continued, “To be clear: capturing or sharing images of the victims in such a condition is irresponsible, it is indefensible, and it is not who we are as New Orleanians. Out of respect to the victims and their families, and in the name of basic common decency: we urge news outlets, residents, and social media users to have nothing to do with making a tragic situation needlessly worse.”

Cantrell declared a state of emergency on Oct. 12, 2019, which was extended on January 29, 2020.

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.”

As of Feb. 4, 2020, the city exhausted $11.6 million to secure the structure, but why has it taken more than four months to take action and remove something that has now become a Segway stop for tourists?

Cantrell’s word choices are indicative of how the city’s administration has managed the situation since the tragedy. It is irresponsible and indefensible to not make it a priority to secure the worksite, remove the bodies and complete demolition of the structure. The city’s lack of action continues to threaten the health, safety, welfare and property of its residents and visitors.

The administration has shown no respect to Arreola or Wimberly or their families. There shouldn’t have to be outcry, but it is warranted. There shouldn’t have to be demonstrations, but there also shouldn’t be excuses as to why city officials state it will take until March to execute plans.

Hard Rock International echoed the frustration of the city’s residents and those affected by the collapse:

“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.”

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and 2019 is now in the past, joined shortly after by Valentine’s Day and Fat Tuesday. These are all holidays that Arreola’s and Wimberly’s families will never be able to share with them again. And there should have been some sense of closure by now.

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