November 24, 2020

Construction worker’s body removed nearly year after being trapped in collapse

Crews on Saturday recovered the body of one of two construction workers that had been trapped nearly 10 months ago in the collapse of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans.

Family watched as the remains of Quinnyon Wimberly, 36, were lowered from the complex using a platform and a crane, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. Sobbing relatives huddled at the site for 15 minutes, as Mayor LaToya Cantrell and New Orleans Fire Department Chief Tim McConnell stood by.

There was no immediate word on when crews would extricate the remains of the other worker, Jose Ponce Areola, 63. Crews have yet to reach the area on the 8th floor of the structure where they expect to find his body, authorities said.

The remains of Anthony Magrette, 49, the third worker killed, were removed the day after the partial building collapse last Oct. 12. His twin sister, Angela Magrette, stood with Wimberly’s family on Saturday as Wimberly’s remains were lowered from the structure around 10:45 a.m.

“This family we’ve actually made our family. I have to be here for them,” she said. “It’s torture. You live this October 12th every day, knowing people still aren’t being held accountable.”

Plans to remove the bodies have been hit with several delays. Representatives for 1031 Canal Development, the project’s owner, said problems have included finding insurance and a contractor for demolition work at the site, as well as inclement weather.

Once the last body is removed, authorities said, they plan to demolish the building quickly since the city is in the middle of a new hurricane season. Officials have said they hope to have the structure down by October, a year after the initial collapse. The cause of the collapse remains under investigation.

Cantrell and the fire chief, McConnell, spoke to reporters just after midday, saying that Saturday was a difficult day, but ultimately a good one.

“This has been a long journey,” Cantrell said haltingly and with tears on her cheeks. “But the longest journey has been for the families mostly impacted by this collapse. (It was a) long time coming to get Quinnyon Wimberly out of the building. It was an intolerable wait.”

Cantrell and McConnell said the next step is to remove Ponce Areola’s body, which the chief has said would be much more difficult and complex than the process involved in bringing out Wimberly’s remains.