NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A large section of a Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter collapsed Saturday morning amid dust and debris, leaving at least one person dead and three unaccounted for, authorities said.
Nearby buildings were evacuated and officials said the building and a 270-foot (82.3-meter) construction crane still looming over the site were considered unstable. It was not immediately clear how that would affect search and rescue efforts. A drone was flown over the site to help authorities assess the situation.
WWL-TV aired and tweeted a viewer’s dramatic video of the collapse , showing upper floors falling on top of each other before one side of the building crashed to the ground.
Another video on social media was taken by someone aboard one of the city’s famous streetcars as it approached the site while the building was collapsing. It showed what looked like a metal structure – part of the building or a piece of construction equipment – tumbling to the ground and people running from the scene as clouds of dust billowed up, obscuring the view like a thick fog.
Evacuees included guests at a hostel across the street from the damaged building.
“I heard a huge noise and thought it was a plane crashing. Then, the hostel shook,” guest Sue Hurley, 68, told The Associated Press. She said she was reminded of news accounts of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Another hostel guest, Michael Arbeiter, 30, from Munich, Germany, said he was just getting out of the shower when the room shook.
“I’m not sure what happened but they told us to get out of here,” he said. “I’m supposed to stay until Monday. Thank God it was not another 9-11.”
The building was under construction at the corner of Rampart Street and Canal Street, a broad boulevard just outside the Quarter, lined with restaurants hotels and retailers. Canal, which carries six lanes of traffic divided by a wide median where streetcars roll, separates the Quarter from the city’s main business district.
Authorities say 18 people were taken to a hospital for treatment. All were considered stable.
Gov. John Bel Edwards visited the scene and urged people to stay away from the area, which was still considered unstable. As dust settled following the morning collapse, twisted metal, concrete pilings and other wreckage covered part of Rampart Street.
“It was a deep rumbling sound,” Matt Worges, who saw the collapse from a nearby building, told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. “Like an airplane maybe. It drew my head immediately.”
Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill contributed to this report.