More than three months after a Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans partially collapsed, bodies of two of the three workers who died remain in the wreckage, and this week one of them became partially visible, sparking a public outcry.
New Orleans officials responded to the complaints Wednesday, saying a tarp covering one of the victims had fallen after ropes broke following high winds.
A new tarp was put up later Wednesday. And city officials stressed that it has been too dangerous so far to retrieve the two bodies remaining in the rubble, releasing a fact sheet that also notes the condition of the site has further deteriorated since Oct. 12, when a large part of the building crumbled to the ground.
But the spectacle earlier in the week of people snapping photos of the part of the building where the tarp had fallen, exposing part of one of the bodies, raised the question of why the victims had not been retrieved yet.
“I would submit to @mayorcantrell that placing a tarp over a dead New Orleans citizen & allowing him to hang for more than 3 months, rather than figuring out a way to remove his body is ‘irresponsible and indefensible,'” one Twitter user by the name of Cavett Feazel posted. “Atrocious look for our state.”
Another Twitter user by the name of Erica wrote, in part: “Couldn’t even imagine if either was my loved one. I would be a force until some1 took action.”
Several others said they were sickened and disgusted that the two bodies have not been retrieved.
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New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell said at the news conference Wednesday that officials became aware of the original tarp falling after photos began surfacing on social media this week.
He urged the public not to share the images out of respect for the victims’ families.
“It is lack of respect and human dignity for people,” McConnell said. “There are people who are suffering.”
Authorities have not publicly named the two victims whose remains have not been recovered. A coroner identified the third victim, whose body was recovered, as Anthony Magrette, 49.
Officials said they plan to recover the two remaining bodies following a controlled demolition of the building planned for March.
“Once we implode the building, the bodies will be recovered,” McConnell said. “They are in the collapse. We’ve had experts from every field that we can find to come in here, and no one has been able to present a safe plan to do it without the risk of the building shifting and collapsing.”
McConnell said both victims’ families have been informed about the plan.
“I wish there was a better way. I wish we could have given these families closure much sooner,” he added.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the planned implosion Friday, before the fallen tarp revealed one of the bodies.
She said an implosion was safer for workers and the public than taking the building apart bit by bit.
“Putting more people at risk — I cannot live with that and won’t support that,” Cantrell said.
When the building fell in October, two giant cranes remained perched aside the wreckage. Controlled explosions on Oct. 20 brought one of the cranes down, with plans to dismantle the other, NBC affiliate WDSU in New Orleans reported.
City officials said at the time that the National Guard would help to retrieve the bodies of the two victims in the wreckage. But officials later announced that the bodies were in locations that could not be reached by rescue workers.
In addition to the three who died, dozens of people were injured in the collapse.
Among them was worker Derrick Pate who said rescuers were initially reluctant to free him after he became trapped because of fears that the remainder of the structure would come crashing down. But several of his co-workers insisted they try to save him, Pate told NBC News at a rehabilitation hospital in October.
“I could’ve been left there. And I wouldn’t be telling this story today,” he said, adding: “I’m just lucky to be here, actually. Very lucky. Somebody was in my corner. God was in my corner.”