Search and rescue team faces challenges as it begins Hard Rock recovery efforts

Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 9:16 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -The Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR), says their biggest concerns are severe weather and threat of further collapse.

The crew is responsible for the recovery efforts of the two victims at the Hard Rock site, formed after Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve responded to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, cause of tornadoes, we’ve responded to flooding incidents in Texas, hurricanes in South Carolina, hurricanes in Florida,” NOFD Deputy Chief of Special Operations, Joseph Wheeler said.

USAR Captain Danny Simon says the team's experience dealing with natural disasters did not translate in navigating the collapse site.

"It really didn't help at all, cause this incident is completely different from anything we've ever done. We're not used to not really being able to get to victims," Simon said.

He says the biggest challenge with the building is its unpredictable condition.

"There's a constant chance of further collapse, so there's just areas around the building that you can't even walk, because there's always a danger of collapse, and since the crews started demolition, it makes it even worse," Simon said.

Crews were delayed Wednesday afternoon due to the rain. The team says bad weather the past few weeks slowed their process.

“The biggest challenge with weather is the lightning, and then sometimes the wind. as long as there are men going up in a basket, hanging from a crane to do work on this building, lightning has to be farther than ten miles away,” Simon said.

Norma Jean Mattei, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNO says retrieving the victims will be a precarious task.

"Accessing the bodies--they want to do that before they get too far down along in the demolition. So how do they remove just enough, so they can get to those victims and retrieve those remains for their families?" Mattei asked.

Simon said the second victim, Jose Arreola's remains will be easier to get to, than Quinnyon Wimberly's.

“Quinnyon on the other hand is in a location that we really can’t predict what’s going to happen with the building. When they start tearing those slabs down, it’s a possibility of further collapse, his location could move, so as they’re doing demolition, we really have to constantly keep our eyes on his location,” Simon said.

Despite the challenges, the team still expects to be on track with the timeline of retrieving the first victim’s remains by the end of the week.

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