Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grand Palace Hotel implosion a success

Posted By on Sun, Jul 22, 2012 at 12:04 PM

At 8 a.m. this morning, the Grand Palace Hotel was imploded in what Louisiana State trooper and public information officer Nick Manale said was the culmination of hard work and inter-agency cooperation. "From the federal levels to the local and state levels, this was a lot of good planning and logistical organization," he said. "It's pretty amazing."

It was also pretty amazing to watch. Though an evacuation order was in place for the immediate blocks, that didn't stop New Orleanians from gathering in the neutral ground, parade style, to view the spectacle. "They've got people out there drinking beer," observed jazz vocalist Phillip Manuel. "It's a party."

Implosion fans and news crews on Galvez Street
  • Implosion fans and news crews on Galvez Street

"We've got a good crowd here," said Christina Stephens, spokesperson for the governor's Division of Administration. "Everything's going smoothly."

Crowds at Canal and Galvez streets
  • Crowds at Canal and Galvez streets

The viewing area set aside for media and public officials bristled with excitement, too. I tried to keep my giddiness under wraps and stay professional, but it's not every day I get to watch a hotel implode. Evidently, some of my peers felt the same way. "When would I ever get the chance to see an implosion again?" mused a city official who declined to be named. "I drove in from Baton Rouge to see this!" said another bystander. "It's a perfect day to blow up a hotel," said photographer David Rae Morris. "Of course, the wind's blowing toward us."

Media setting up
  • Media setting up

That didn't bode well for the dust situation, which Stephens addressed shortly before the implosion. "There will be some dust in the area," she said. "If it gets too bad, we're going to shelter. We're still on schedule for 8 a.m. You'll hear warning sirens, and then you'll hear charges going off."

The hotel and media crews moments before the implosion
  • The hotel and media crews moments before the implosion

Except hardly anybody heard the sirens. (I didn't.) By the time the first charges blew, it was too late for me to grab my camera, so I simply watched as the hotel took a massive swan dive into swells of gray-brown smoke and dust. In a few seconds it had collapsed, but I kept watching, almost expecting it to fall again, like in a fireworks show where explosions are followed by more explosions. There was a smattering of applause, then the cloud of dust engulfed us and we fled for shelter.
The dust cloud approaches
  • The dust cloud approaches

As we scrambled for masks, Stephens jokingly reminded us that we'd all signed waivers. But nobody seemed overly worried about their health. "That was awesome," breathed the Baton Rouge resident. "Totally worth the drive."

Camera crews shelter from the dust
  • Camera crews shelter from the dust

The worst passed in a few minutes. Mayor Mitch Landrieu was one of the first to venture outside, addressing camera crews in the waning dust. "I thought (the implosion) was cool," he told WWL-TV.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu addresses a camera crew
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu addresses a camera crew

I thought so, too, and when the dust cleared, it revealed a very different skyline:
Before
  • Before

After
  • After

It's pretty amazing that a city's skyline can change so drastically in less than 10 seconds. But then again, that's only the part I saw. As Manale reminded me, this operation required months of planning, organization and cooperation on multiple levels. That's what it takes to safely contain the chaos of collapse, and it was beautiful to witness.

"Everything went according to plan," Manale said. "It was a well-planned demolition event."

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