Crews will explode cranes at damaged Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans ahead of storm

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New Orleans Fire Department personnel stand by the scene of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. New Orleans officials say the chances of a missing worker’s survival after the collapse are diminishing, and they have shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery mode. News outlets report Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell says they shifted Wednesday ahead of a possible tropical storm. McConnell says chances of the missing worker’s survival will be considered nearly “zero” if no sign of him turns up by Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

By REBECCA SANTANA and KEVIN McGILL Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The city of New Orleans is preparing to explode two giant, badly damaged construction cranes that are towering over a partially collapsed hotel project at the edge of the French Quarter, bringing them down Friday just ahead of tropical weather that could possibly cause them to tumble out of control.

Workers in a bucket begin the process of planting explosive charges on two unstable cranes at the Hard Rock Hotel, which underwent a partial, major collapse on Saturday, Oct. 12, in New Orleans, viewed Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Authorities say explosives will be strategically placed on the two unstable construction cranes in hopes of bringing them down with a series of small controlled blasts ahead of approaching tropical weather. Officials hope to bring the towers down Friday without damaging nearby businesses and historic buildings in and around the nearby French Quarter. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

They hope to demolish the cranes with a series of controlled explosions that would drop them straight down without damaging gas and electricity lines and historic buildings.

Fire Chief Tim McConnell said they’re working quickly to collapse the multi-ton structures as authorities keep watch on the outer bands of what the National Hurricane Center expects to become Tropical Storm Nestor. Forecasters said the storm could kick up stiff winds and rain by Friday night.

Workers in a bucket, top, begin the process of planting explosive charges on two unstable cranes at the Hard Rock Hotel, which underwent a partial, major collapse on Saturday, Oct. 12, in New Orleans, viewed on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Authorities say explosives will be strategically placed on the two unstable construction cranes in hopes of bringing them down with a series of small controlled blasts ahead of approaching tropical weather. Officials hope to bring the towers down Friday without damaging nearby businesses and historic buildings in and around the nearby French Quarter. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mayor LaToya Cantrell cited the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel and the coming storm in declaring a state of emergency that empowers police to “commandeer or utilize any private property,” force people out of dangerous areas and suspend the sale or transport of alcohol and firearms, among other measures.

“There is still a possibility of tropical storm force winds here in New Orleans,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said, flanking the mayor at a Thursday evening news conference. “That is not the probability. But there is a probability that we’re going to have elevated winds regardless.”

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards address reporters near the Hard Rock Hotel, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in New Orleans. The 18-story hotel project that was under construction collapsed last Saturday, killing three workers. Two bodies remain in the wreckage. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The fire chief described a plan involving workers suspended from another crane, moved in Thursday, to weaken the damaged construction towers with blow torches and attach explosives at key points. One of the crane towers is about 270 feet (82 meters) high, the other about 300 feet (91 meters). Both have massive cross arms adding more tonnage. Neither is stable.

“The rear tower moved four inches overnight, the one in the front moved two inches,” McConnell said. “They’re not designed to do that.”

McConnell said an already wide evacuation area around the site would be expanded ahead of the explosion. Gas to a major utility line was being shut down and steps were being taken to protect that line and underground electrical lines that could be affected by falling debris. McConnell said the line would be severely damaged were a crane to land on it.

If the operation is successful, McConnell said, the towers will drop vertically and simultaneously. “Think of it like it’s melting,” he told reporters.

Experts, including some who brought down damaged buildings at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have worked around the clock since Saturday to devise a means of safely bringing down the cranes.

The construction project collapsed Saturday in blinding clouds of dust, killing three workers and injuring more than 20 people. Only one of three bodies has been recovered from the wreckage.

The cause of the collapse remains unknown. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration will investigate. Lawsuits are already being filed on behalf of the injured.

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