New Orleans held its collective breath Sunday as it watched the sky over downtown, waiting to see if the dangerously precarious Hard Rock hotel site could be stabilized. For Mayor LaToya Cantrell and other city leaders, it was a hold-your-breath moment, too.
“Cranes in the sky” may have seemed like a pipe dream during the slow years after Hurricane Katrina, but the eventual reality turned terrifying when the recent building collapse left two giant construction cranes badly damaged. Their removal, following an audacious plan to strategically deploy explosives and control the cranes’ fall as best as possible, could have triggered a second catastrophe.
That didn’t happen. And now that all the dust has settled, the city owes its gratitude to the New Orleans Fire Department and other agencies and experts who made this daring operation a safe one.
"I do not think it could have gone much better," NOFD superintendent Tim McConnell said. "It went down exactly as we expected it to do."
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The lead-up to the demolition was disruptive, to people living and staying nearby who had to clear out and to organizers of major events who had to shift gears. But their frustrations paled in relation to the project’s urgency and delicacy, and its ultimate success.
The good weather held, nobody got hurt, the hulking remains of the Hard Rock still stand. The nearby infrastructure and the surrounding historic buildings, including the lovingly restored Saenger Theatre, escaped without major damage. Officials can now turn their attention to retrieving the bodies of two construction workers who lost their lives in the tragedy, and to figuring out what comes next.
That they can do so without contending with more bad news is the best news anyone could have hoped for.
It’s also a testament to the planning, diligence and care shown by the Cantrell administration and everyone else involved.