NEW ORLEANS — The body of Quinnyon Wimberly, one of the two men trapped in the Hard Rock Hotel collapse in October, was recovered Saturday after 10 months.
The recovery of Wimberly and Jose Ponce Areola from the wreckage has been pushed back several times in the months since the collapse, leading to frustration from family members and the city at large.
In a press conference, Mayor LaToya Cantrell painted the removal as closure for Wimberly's family and for the city.
"Words cannot really explain or describe, not only the pain, but the closure that they've been wanting for 10 months," Cantrell said.
Representatives for 1031 Canal Development, the Hard Rock’s owner, blamed delays on issued with finding insurance, then finding a contractor for demolition work, then rain and finally connectivity issues with some of the robotic equipment.
The City of New Orleans has been impatient, with government officials taking 1031 Canal to court over a timeline for recovery and demolition.
"I cannot put words, words cannot even describe, what it felt like to see the bucket come down," Cantrell said.
Wimberly's body was taken to the parish coroner's office, where a forensic investigation into his death will begin in order to "fully document the pain and harm that was caused that ended in death," Cantrell said.
That investigation could take up to two months.
"I want to see justice for the family as it relates to this tragedy that they have experienced and of course the city has experienced," Cantrell said.
While there is no publicly available timeline for when Ponce Areola will be recovered, officials have said they hope to bring down the half-ruined structure by October, a year after the initial collapse.
New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell said the recovery of Ponce Areola's body would be significantly more complex because of where his body is inside the building.
Once a plan for his recovery is formed, crews will begin the process of excavating his remains in a similar way to how Wimberly was recovered.
Immediately we are started on the next step to get Mr. Ponce out," McConnell said. "That work starts immediately."
He added that the recovery of one body has energized the urban search and rescue team assigned to the Hard Rock collapse. McConnell said he spoke with the leader of the team earlier in the morning, and that they were eager to continue work.
"Its certainly a first step in closure, but he said to me ‘we’re ready to get Jose,’" McConnell said.
Once the remains are retrieved, the plan is to demolish the building rather quickly. The work is taking place close to the peak of hurricane season, which typically comes in mid-August and lasts until early October.
Anthony Magrette, the third worker killed in the Oct. 12 collapse, was removed months ago. The reason several tons of concrete fell, blanketing one of New Orleans' most trafficked intersections in dust and debris, is still under investigation.
Eyewitness News investigators have uncovered evidence of improper structural work, negligent city inspectors and other factors that could have led to the deadly incident.
Preliminary findings from an OSHA report about the collapse were released earlier this year, but the full report is sealed as it makes its way through litigation.
OSHA inspectors said in their preliminary findings that the design and engineering of upper floors weren't done properly.
They said floor beams on the 16th floor weren't strong enough, and columns on the 17th and 18th floors were too far apart and carried too much weight.
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