When the tarp shifted to expose the body of one of the men killed in the October collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown New Orleans, it was as if someone had ripped a bandage off a wound.
The pain of the tragic incident, and the horror of knowing the remains of two deceased construction workers remain trapped in the wreckage, again felt new, and frustration bubbled to the surface and spread on the internet. It was fueled by confusion over changing plans to handle the partially collapsed 18-story building, which was first slated to be imploded, then dismantled piece by piece over much of 2020, and now imploded in March.
We get it. It’s an awful situation. There’s too much we don’t know, and what we are told seems to keep changing.
We also get that no local government has the in-house expertise to handle a tragedy of this scale, that much of what happens is subject to outside forces such as experts, investigators, and insurers, and that fault takes time to be fully, legally determined. That’s true whether or not the City Council holds hearings, which it is now planning to do.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell has come under growing attack for a crisis she did not cause. She deserves credit for being candid with the public, even if it sometimes appears that the city can’t settle on a demolition plan. But when it comes to her tone, the criticism is at least somewhat deserved. Her response to what she sees as some council members’ intrusion onto her turf is misplaced. Hearings surely would produce some political theater, but they might also provide more clarity to the public. The city's inspector general has warned that they could impede ongoing investigations, though, so if the council goes ahead, it should take every precaution to make sure that doesn't happen.
What council hearings won’t do is nail down all the answers. Some of those will presumably come from an OSHA report that’s expected in April. There could also be criminal investigations, and there surely will be years of fighting in civil court.
A combative Monday interview by the developers’ lawyer with WWL radio host Newell Normand, the first extensive comments from the consortium to date, previewed at least some of what’s still to come. Kerry Miller spent his air time deflecting blame. He argued that his clients, 1031 Canal Development LLC, weren’t the contractors and engineers who worked on the project, even though the prime contractor is part of the consortium. He lashed out at the “Twitter-fueled flash mob” demanding accountability from those who oversaw the project and even planted the idea that some of the anger at majority partner Mohan Kailas was racially motivated.
He and his clients should spare us the complaints. The real victims are still trapped in the wreckage of the Hard Rock.