The body of the last New Orleans worker killed in October 2019 when a Hard Rock Hotel construction site partially collapsed was finally recovered this week.
The remains of José Ponce Arreola, 63, were recovered Monday, and those of Quinnyon Wimberly, 36, were removed from the wreckage Aug. 8, the mayor’s office told NBC News. The body of a third man, Anthony Magrette, 49, was removed a day after the collapse.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at the news conference Tuesday that she expects the building will now be demolished.
“The city’s top priority, as it relates to the Hard Rock collapse, in that tragedy, was to ensure public safety, as well as to ensure that the remains of José and Quinnyon return to their families,” she said.
The recovery mission began last month.
All three workers were killed Oct. 12 when part of the 18-story building collapsed during construction. Authorities had said that dangerous conditions kept them from being able to recover the bodies of Wimberly, whose remains were trapped on the 11th floor, and Ponce, who was on the 8th floor.
“We are grateful to finally have some measure of closure for both families, who had to experience an intolerable delay,” Cantrell said in a statement Monday, adding that the family of Ponce held a service for him.
“It is a terrible relief to begin finally bringing this process to an end. The safe and respectful removal of our people has been a top priority throughout, and I am grateful to God that this day has finally come.”
Quinnyon Wimberly’s mother, Irene, has previously said she wasn’t going to place blame on why the recovery process took nearly a year.
“It’s been a long time and it has almost been 10 months, but it’s not because they weren’t trying,” she said in a phone interview last month. “From day one, I told them that I didn’t want to see anyone else hurt or killed. I wouldn’t want no one’s life to be in danger trying to get him out.”
In addition to the three people who lost their lives that day, dozens of others were injured in the collapse.
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report on the collapse published in April found that Heaslip Engineering had committed “serious” and “willful” violations and noted that “structural steel connections were inadequately designed, reviewed or approved.” The company was fined.
The developer said in January that the cause of the collapse remains under investigation, and that it “relied upon design professionals to construct the building,” the Engineering News-Record reported.
This week Mario Ponce Arreola, Ponce’s brother, told the Daily Tennessean, “It has been 10 months of anguish, wondering if they would find him. We had very little information about what was happening.
Ponce, local news reported after the collapse, had planned to retire to Mexico. Now he will be buried there.