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Victims' bodies still at New Orleans Hard Rock Hotel months after collapse

Oliver Laughland in New Orleans
Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Three months after the partial collapse of the Hard Rock hotel construction site on the tip of New Orleans’s historic French Quarter, a macabre reminder of the tragedy that claimed three lives was visible to passersby this week.

Among the collapsed building’s twisted remains and rubble, the dangling legs of a wedged corpse were revealed to the public after a tarpaulin sheet covering the body was blown away by wind.

Related: Hard Rock Hotel collapse reminds New Orleans of undocumented workers' plight

The gruesome sight came as city officials are scrambling to dismantle the 18-storey, 350-room hotel, which remains an eyesore and still holds the trapped remains of two workers, Quinnyon Wimberly and José Ponce Arreola.

After images of the exposed corpse provoked outrage on social media, city firefighters installed a new tarp on Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning the covering remained intact, as police maintained a heavy presence around the collapsed building.

The mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, urged members of the public and the media not to photograph or share images of the body.

“To be clear: capturing or sharing images of the victims in such a condition is irresponsible, it is indefensible, and it is not who we are as New Orleanians,” a statement from the mayor’s office read. “We urge news outlets, residents, and social media users to have nothing to do with making a tragic situation needlessly worse.”

Cantrell has faced significant criticism for her handling of the saga and it remains unclear if the collapse is being criminally investigated. Last week, city officials announced new plans to implode the building by mid-March, after the firm that owns the site – 1031 Canal Street Development – had lobbied for a gradual demolition process that would have extended into next year.

The mayor’s office said on Wednesday that “respectful recovery of the remains” is still a “top priority” but that the building’s continued instability had made recovery “extremely difficult and very dangerous”. One of the bodies is trapped over 11 storeys above street level.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office declined to comment further on Thursday.

The city is preparing for the annual Mardi Gras season, which draws about a million tourists to New Orleans in February and brings in about $400m to the local economy.

The collapse has also drawn attention to the plight of the city’s undocumented community after one worker, Delmer Joel Ramírez Palma, was deported to Honduras by federal authorities, having been hospitalized due to injuries sustained during the incident.

Ramírez Palma had alerted authorities to dangers in the construction process before the collapse and was interviewed by Spanish language TV in the aftermath. He had lived in New Orleans for 18 years.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the project’s developers and contracts, citing allegations of negligence. Plaintiffs include both bystanders and workers injured during the collapse.