Up to 10 people have been killed when a newly installed pedestrian bridge spanning several lanes of traffic collapsed at Florida International University on Thursday.
Cars were waiting for the lights to change when the 950-ton ‘instant bridge’, which was installed in just six hours on Saturday, crumbled and fell on the waiting traffic on the busy, seven-lane 8th Street, which runs from downtown Miami all the way to the Everglades.
A motorist captured the aftermath, seconds after the collapse, as the bridge disappeared and dust rose from the rubble.
Fire Chief Dave Downey confirmed four were found dead among the rubble of the bridge, as rescuers continue to hunt for survivors. Some workers were on the bridge when it collapsed, but officials did not detail whether any of them were among the dead. He said ‘search and rescue mode’ is continuing after nightfall.
Gov. Rick Scott also spoke to reporters, saying ‘everybody is working hard to make sure we rescue anyone who can be rescued’ adding that an investigation will get to the bottom of ‘why this happened and what happened.’
If anyone had done anything wrong, ‘we will hold them accountable’, he added.
Ten people were rushed to Kendall Regional Medical Center, at least two in ‘extremely critical’ condition. One of those who arrived in critical condition was suffering a cardiac arrest but was revived by doctors, while the other has a serious brain injury.
The remaining eight were stable, with injuries such as ‘bruises and abrasions to broken bones.’
The 174-foot ‘instant bridge’ hailed as a feat of engineering and safety, was installed Saturday morning but was not due to open to the public until 2019. The $14.2 million structure was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, and built to last 100 years, the university said.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate why it collapsed.
‘We’re working our way into the pile trying to create holes that we can actually physically see,’ Miami-Dade Fire Department Division Chief Paul Estopian told reporters.
The Florida Highway Patrol has said several people were killed but did not release a figure on fatalities. Rescue teams are working to free eight vehicles were trapped in the bridge wreckage, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in an interview with CBS Miami.
One person was suffering from cardiac arrest, Gimenez said.
Television images captured from helicopter show numerous cars crushed by the weight of the bridge.
Suzy Bermudez told ABC News she’s been in the line of traffic when she saw the cars in front of her ‘totally smashed, almost to the ground’ by the falling debris.
‘It fell on the cars that were waiting for the light to change,’ she said. ‘All of a sudden, I saw it collapse. It was in slow motion.
‘I couldn’t process it until I actually jumped out of my car,’ Bermudez continued, adding she saw just one survivor, who escaped after the bridge smashed just the back of his car.
At one point, police had requested television helicopters to leave the area so rescuers could hear for any sounds of people crying for help from beneath the collapsed structure, the Miami TV station said.
Complicating the rescue effort was the uncertainty about the integrity of the bridge, parts of which remained off the ground, much of it inclined, local media reported.
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey says his crew is using high-tech listening devices, trained sniffing dogs, search cameras, and other equipment in the frantic race to find any survivors still trapped in the rubble of the South Florida pedestrian bridge collapse.
Downey told a news conference Thursday evening that the work is dangerous and difficult but is continuing. He says his crews have traveled to building collapses elsewhere in the world but now are working as fast as they can.
Says Downey: ‘We have to remove some of this piece by piece. It’s very unstable.’ Aerial footage at the site showed a trained dog running atop fallen concrete and sniffing in the crevices for any victims.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida joined first responders and Gov. Rick Scott at the briefing. He says he lamented the ‘tragic accident‘ and noted the pedestrian bridge was intended to be an innovative and ‘one-of-a-kind engineering designed.
He says the public and the families of the dead and injured deserve to know ‘what went wrong.’
President Trump has also tweeted that he is monitoring the situation in Florida and praised the brave responders who have been saving lives.
’Continuing to monitor the heartbreaking bridge collapse at FIU – so tragic. Many brave First Responders rushed in to save lives. Thank you for your courage. Praying this evening for all who are affected,’ he wrote.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today, in a media briefing, that: ‘Our brave first responders are working feverishly to save lives. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and offer whatever support is needed to the local officials and community.’
Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that he was traveling to Florida International University ‘to be briefed by local law enforcement and university officials.’
‘I have spoken with Miami-Dade County Police Chief Juan Perez about the pedestrian bridge collapse at FIU. I will be in constant communication with law enforcement throughout the day,’ he added.
Mark Rosenberg, President of Florida International University, said in a message to students and staff that he was ‘heartbroken’ by the news.
‘I am heartbroken at the news of the collapse of the pedestrian bridge on 8th Street and the resulting devastation. We send our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We are working with the appropriate agencies to assist in rescue efforts. Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers.’
He said that the bridge had been a source of pride for the community.
‘This bridge was about collaboration, was about hope, was about opportunity, was about determination,’ Rosenberg said at the news conference. ‘This bridge was about strength and unity. About being good neighbors with the city of Sweetwater.’
The bridge was designed by FIGG and built by Munilla Construction – two companies who have been accused in years past of shoddy building practices.
Students at FIU had demanded for months that the bridge is built because of the danger in crossing the busy, seven-lane Tamiami Trail highway.
Images also show a number of emergency rescue workers crawling along the rubble in an attempt to spot survivors.
It was built to provide pedestrian access from FIU’s main campus to an area that houses a number of student residences.
Two workers were replacing something on the side of the bridge when it collapsed, according to CBS Miami.
The 950-ton span, which was built over Tamiami Trail at a cost of $14million, was not yet open to pedestrians. It was scheduled to open sometime early next year.
Tamiami Trail is considered a busy roadway, and the bridge was built in order to accommodate students who were fearful of crossing the highway.
Last summer, an FIU student was killed after he was hit by a car while crossing the highway, according to the Miami Herald.
The tragedy amplified student demands for the bridge’s prompt completion.
Miami-Dade County Emergency Management confirmed the collapse and urged the public to avoid the area near SW 8th Street and 109th Avenue.
‘We thought something fell,’ Damany Reed, who witnessed the collapse, told CBS Miami.
‘But then we saw the bridge collapse and it was just surreal at that moment. It was very scary.’
‘I and my boyfriend had just driven under the bridge,’ witness Isabella Carrasco told CBSN.
‘We actually commented on how new it was … We had heard a loud bang. At first, we thought we had hit something, and when we looked around, we realized the bridge had collapsed. When we looked around we saw that it was much, much worse.’
Lionel Collins, another witness, said he was ‘pretty shaken’ after he rescued a number of people from their cars.
‘After the whole thing broke, I was freaking out,’ Collins told CNN.
‘I got out of my car and me and a few other people were sprinting over there. We started helping people whose cars were at least half crushed and whoever was easily saved.
‘But we couldn’t really go under any of the rubble because, at the time, the bridge – the other half of the bridge is still kind of leaning upward right now.’
‘One girl, her car was literally squished by the bridge from the back,’ one witness said.
‘So she was able to get out. We were trying to help her. It was very traumatizing.’
Student Aura Martinez was having lunch in a nearby restaurant with her mother when a waitress told her the bridge had collapsed. She ran outside and helped pull a woman out of her car, most of which was flattened by the bridge.
‘Her car, it was literally a miracle of God, her car got squished by the bridge from the back, so she was able to get out and she was on the floor and it was just very traumatic,’ she told the local CBS affiliate.
Munilla Construction Management, which installed the bridge was founded in 1983 and owned by five brothers, according to its website. In addition to its Florida operations, the company also has divisions in Texas and Panama and employs 500 people.
‘Munilla Construction Management is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist,’ the company said in a statement.
FIGG Engineering said it took part in the bridge project and the collapse was a first in its 40-year history.
Both companies said they would cooperate fully with investigators.
Colorado-based engineering company BDI said in a tweet on March 12 that it was ‘thrilled’ to have conducted structural monitoring during the ‘spectacular’ process of moving the bridge into place. The company removed the tweet on Thursday and said in a statement it did so out of respect for individuals affected by the collapse.
FIU released a statement on Thursday, saying: ‘We are shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge.
‘At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information.’
The bridge and its support towers took months to construct, according to the Miami Herald.
The main body of the span was assembled along the side of the Tamiami Trail, with support towers built at each end.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the bridge was then lifted by special gantry cranes and lowered into place.
The portion of the roadway underneath the bridge was closed for the weekend. It reopened early Monday morning.
A Colorado-based engineering firm, BDI, deleted a tweet on Monday that said it was ‘thrilled to have provided structural monitoring during a spectacular bridge move.’
The bridge, which was built at a cost of $14million and was funded by the federal government, was touted by the school as an achievement when it was completed last Saturday.
Planners had envisioned the bridge as a new complex which would provide new sidewalks, a plaza, benches, tables, shade, and Wi-Fi.
The bridge was touted as part of overall efforts to revitalize Sweetwater, a city in Dade County.
Private developers were also planning to build apartment towers to cater to FIU students, according to the Herald.
‘FIU is about building bridges and student safety,’ FIU president Mark Rosenberg said on Saturday.
‘This project accomplishes our mission beautifully. We are filled with pride and satisfaction at seeing this engineering feat come to life and connect our campus to the surrounding community where thousands of our students live.’
The school and the company which built the bridge boasted of the speed of its construction, which was aimed at reducing the traffic burden on the busy thoroughfare, according to the Miami New Times.
The bridge’s planning was done at FIU’s very own Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center.
‘This [accelerated bridge construction] technique reduced potential risks to workers, commuters, and pedestrians and prevented traffic tie-ups in the area,’ FIU wrote in a press release from five days ago.
‘ABC is a delivery solution method of building and repairing bridges with the capability to reduce the interruption to traffic and increase safety,’ the center writes on its website.
FIGG Bridge Engineers, the Tallahassee-based company that designed the project, said the bridge was not expected to be open to foot traffic until sometime next year.
‘We are stunned by today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami,’ FIGG Bridge Engineers said in a statement.
‘Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident.
‘We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why.’
‘In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before.
‘Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.’
FIGG’s partner in the project, Munilla Construction, also released a statement on Thursday.
‘Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy,’ Munilla said in a statement.
‘The new UniversityCity Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse causing injuries and loss of life.
‘MCM is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist.
‘We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way.’
The U.S. Department of Transportation also released a statement saying that: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and first responders who are assisting in the on-going rescue and recovery efforts following today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.’
Munilla won the bid to build the bridge, beating out three other companies, according to the Miami New Times.
Both FIGG and Munilla have been accused in years past of unsafe practices.
On March 5, Munilla was sued by a TSA employee at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport who claims that a pedestrian bridge built by the firm collapsed under his weight, sending him falling to the ground.
In June 2012, a bridge built by FIGG in Virginia fell apart during construction, injuring four workers, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
FIU has deleted statements on social media and press releases from earlier this week touting the construction of the bridge.
‘This bridge is the result of great support from our congressional delegation and the US Department of Transportation,’ FIU Senior Vice President and CFO Kenneth Jessell announced over the weekend.
‘This bridge has already been the catalyst for significant economic development in the City of Sweetwater. FIU and our surrounding community will benefit from this project for generations to come.’
A family reunification center has now been set up at FIU’s SASC Building, at 11200 SW Eighth St., Miami-Dade County Emergency Management said on Twitter.
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