At least four dead in Miami college pedestrian bridge collapse

(RNN) – At least four people died Thursday when a 950-ton pedestrian bridge collapsed on a major roadway running through the campus of Florida International University in Miami.

The bridge, which opened just days before, fell onto eight cars at the busy intersection of SW Eighth Street and 109th Avenue at about 1:30 p.m. ET.

At an evening press conference, Dave Downey, the fire chief of Miami-Dade County, said nine people were removed from the rubble and transported to hospitals. Four were deceased he said. The amount injured is unclear, but 10 people are being treated at Kendall Regional Medical Center.

Miami-Dade Fire continues to conducting a search and rescue operation hours later, and is using rescue dogs, cranes and other urban rescue tactics. A police source told the Miami Herald a woman was rescued from the rubble alive around 7 p.m.

The Herald also reported that one of the dead was a female FIU student, and that a baby was discovered under the bridge. Its condition was unknown. 

According to Dr. Mark McKinney at Kendall Regional Medical Center, of the 10 patients they are treating, one arrived in cardiac arrest, but his heart was restarted and he’s in critical condition with head and chest injuries. Another patient arrived in a coma with severe extremity injuries and also is in critical condition.

“Eight other patients were admitted to the hospital with their traumatic injuries but are in stable condition. Variety of injuries with eight patients, everything from bruises and abrasions albeit of broken bones. But they’re all in stable condition and no severe brain injuries,” McKinney said.

The National Transportation and Safety Board announced they are sending a 15-member investigative team to the site, including engineers, Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. 

FIU President Mark Rosenberg said he believed stress tests were done on the bridge on Thursday prior to the collapse. Those tests, he said, “did not prove to lead anyone to the conclusion that we would have this kind of result.”

Fire officials said two workers were on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

The school released a statement:

We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge. At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information. We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene. We will share updates as we have them.

 Rosenberg said he was “heartbroken” in a statement. He said the school was “working with the appropriate agencies to assist in rescue efforts.” 

The span of the bridge that collapsed was only installed on Saturday. The $14.2 million project wasn’t expected to be completed until 2019.

“I was really excited about seeing the bridge, now seeing it like this, I can’t explain it,” an engineering student, Ricardo Dejo, told CNN.

A witness, Isabella Carrasco, also told the network she had just driven under the bridge when it collapsed behind her.

“Quite frankly I’m lucky to be alive,” she said.

Carrasco added that the school being on spring break possibly saved lives.

“This area is a heavily trafficked area. FIU runs parallel to it and it’s the 109 building, which is a dormitory for the students, is right in front of where the crash happened. It’s, I mean, a lot of pedestrians, a lot of students and thank God it’s spring break because that reduced the amount of traffic.”

Another driver near the bridge, Lynell Collins, said: “I am pretty shaken up. I was really just about to make a right turn a few seconds just before the bridge, and the whole thing just came down, and after the whole thing broke, I was freaking out.”

The structure was hailed as an “instant” bridge that had been assembled over a number of months and then dropped into place in a matter of hours.

Its method of construction is referred to as “accelerated bridge construction,” or ABC. 

“We are stunned by today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami. Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident,” FIGG Engineering, the company that designed the bridge, said.

“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.”

Another FIGG project collapsed in 2012. The firm was fined by the Virginia Department of Labor when four workers received minor injuries in the collapse of a new span of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge. A 10-by-52 foot segment fell 40 feet onto train tracks, the Virginia Pilot reported at the time.

Rosenberg said: “Contracts were fully certified by the state. This has been one of the most intensely managed processes that is around because of the federal support for it.”

Another company involved, Munilla Construction, said: “The MCM family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. 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.”

Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez’s son Julio used to work for Munilla.

Rosenberg said he had not spoken with Munilla, but was “satisfied that the testing that was occurring was consistent with best practices.”

One company, BDI, deleted a tweet from Monday that said they “performed structural monitoring” during the installation. A partner at the firm, Jesse Grimson, told BuzzFeed “we did some work on the bridge during the move.”

“We have no idea what happened,” he added.

Another company involved in the project, Barnhart Crane, also deleted a tweet.

The bridge was supposed to make life safer for students at FIU, taking them over the busy intersection. An FIU undergraduate student, Alexis Dale, was killed by a motorist while crossing the intersection last August.

The bridge was to link FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus with the city of Sweetwater where about 4,000 of its students live, according to the Miami Herald.

Munilla Construction posted a video to their YouTube page in 2015 outlining the final vision for the bridge.

Florida’s politicians quickly responded to the tragedy.

The school tweeted about the new bridge on Wednesday.

Florida International University is one of the largest public universities in Florida. The school has two major campuses and enrolls 55,000 students.

Copyright 2018 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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