At least one person is dead and 18 were taken to a hospital with injuries when a New Orleans hotel under construction collapsed, city officials said Saturday. Two people remained missing as search teams prepared to enter the building in the afternoon.

"We are still in rescue mode," New Orleans Fire Department Chief Timothy McConnell said at a news conference, adding later, "This is not a short-term event; this is a marathon."

Authorities responded just after 9am local time to the Hard Rock Hotel downtown, where the upper six to eight floors had collapsed, McConnell said. Video and photos capture a cloud of gray dust billowing out as wreckage falls onto the road.

Those taken to the hospital are in stable condition, officials said. Nineteen people were evaluated for injuries, but one person was not transported.

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By Saturday afternoon, one of three people initially reported missing was found to have made it to the hospital independently, said Emily Nichols, a physician with New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. Others sought treatment on their own as well, bringing the injured tally into the "double digits," she said.

Some patients have been discharged, she added.

The person killed worked in the building, according to McConnell.

Officials had warned earlier in the day that a 270-foot crane on site could still collapse, asking that people stay away from the scene.

"This remains a very fluid and very dangerous situation, and every few minutes something is falling off of this building," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edward told reporters at midday.

Workers are helped after a large portion of a hotel under construction suddenly collapsed in New Orleans. Photo / AP
Workers are helped after a large portion of a hotel under construction suddenly collapsed in New Orleans. Photo / AP

Engineers have determined that parts of the hotel are stable enough to send in search crews with dogs, McConnell said several hours later. Officials believe one of the missing people may be alive in that area, he said, while the other is thought to be alive in a location not yet deemed stable, he said.

Some surrounding buildings were evacuated by fire personnel, city emergency preparedness campaign NOLA Ready said on Twitter.

The collapse occurred at the streets of Canal and North Rampart, the organisation said.

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