NEW ORLEANS-- After a dramatic fire Thursday night crews are keeping a watchful eye on the Grand Palace Hotel, slated for demolition at the corner of Canal Street and Claiborne Avenue. The fire sent flames into the sky and debris onto nearby I-10, causing a temporary shut down of a portion of the interstate.
Parts of the building still smoldered on Friday, as firefighters took their time assessing the damage on multiple floors.
"The fire may have weakened some areas, some of the floors may have collapsed," said Michael Williams, a spokesman for the New Orleans Fire Department. "Firefighters were going inch by inch to make sure they wouldn't get injured."
Their caution is linked to the ongoing work relating to the upcoming demolition of the building. It lies in the footprint of the new University Medical Center and plans are for that spot to become green space. The former owners attempted to stop the demolition by suing the state, but failed. For weeks now, nearby residents have watched workers dismantle the building floor by floor, removing asbestos, lead and much of the building's walls - leaving a structural skeleton in place.
"I knew they were going to do it sooner or later," said T.C. Williams, who lives two blocks from the building.
Williams said he already received an evacuation notice for the July 22 demolition date. He said when the time comes for the building to come down, he will be out.
"They're going to blow it up that Sunday," he said. "We're leaving that Saturday."
When the building is finally imploded, expect particles to fly out into the air, according to toxicologist Dr. LuAnn White of the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
"Anytime you have a building like that that is going to crash on itself, it's going to break up into smaller and smaller particles," Dr. White said. "So, whatever is in the building can end up as a particle that will disperse in the air."
Just how long will those particles stick around? Dr. White said it won't be long, as past studies show those particles tend to settle quickly.
"Within about 15 minutes - and after about 40 minutes, the air had returned to the background level," she said, pointing to a recent study done on a building implosion in Baltimore. "So, that is an extremely fast time."
Still, Dr. White said those in close proximity need to heed the evacuation order and people with respiratory ailments or heart conditions should take special notice.
"They should probably leave that area for a period of time," she said. "The particulates not only make it harder for someone to breathe, but it can trigger asthma attacks. People with cardiovascular disease, that'll put a greater stress on the heart."
T.C. Williams said he is taking advantage of the state's offer to put him up in a hotel overnight during the implosion. However, he added, he wasn't worried about dust particles.
"Don't make no sense to worry about the dust," he said. "Ain't nothing you can do about it."
A state spokesperson said a team is still trying to determine if the implosion will go on as scheduled on July 22. It is expected to last 20 seconds.