A new 950-ton pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County collapsed Thursday afternoon, killing an unknown number of people.
“There are several fatalities,” said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alex Camacho.
Eight vehicles were trapped beneath the fallen concrete and eight patients were taken to hospitals, a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman said. The victims’ conditions were not released by authorities.
“There’s probably like seven or eight cars under the bridge so it was very shocking to me, and I’m very grateful to be alive,” Bermudez said.
Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio flew to the scene where they pledged to figure out what led to the collapse.
“There will clearly be an investigation to find out exactly what happened and why this happened and we will hold anybody accountable if anybody has done anything wrong,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “But the most important thing we can do right now is pray for the individuals that ended up in the hospital for their full recovery and pray for the family members that have lost loved ones.”
Rubio, who has taught at the university as an adjunct professor for the last decade, said the bridge was built as a safety feature after a student was killed while crossing the road there last year.
“It was also going to be a signature project, one that people would identify with the school and this community, and one of a kind in terms of its engineering design,” Rubio said. “To see it on the ground there today and underneath it those who lost their lives as a result of this and those who have been injured, it’s just so tragic.
“There will be an exhaustive review that will get details on an engineering and scientific level as to what the errors were and what led to this catastrophic collapse, of that you can rest assured.”
Photographs from the scene showed a cranberry colored sedan with a crushed rear end, the front of the car free from debris. Grills from two other vehicles could be seen beneath the edge of a concrete slab.
More than 100 county personnel trained in technical rescue and urban search and rescue were at the scene, and they were using special microphones and dogs to look for survivors, officials said.
Heavy equipment, including cranes and bulldozers, were brought there.
While traveling to Miami, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt III said from Virginia that a “Go Team” of 15 specialists, including experts in civil engineering and materials science, were to arrive Thursday night to investigate the failed bridge. The agency was also sending staff to assist affected families.
The $14.2 million, 174-foot-long bridge, which FIU said swung into place on Saturday, spanned eight lanes of Southwest Eighth Street near Southwest 109th Avenue. It was built to provide safe passage to the campus and had not yet opened to the public.
Firefighters got the call for help at 1:30 p.m. Television news reports showed multiple rescuers attempting to reach people and several patients being brought to ambulances. In photographs released by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, a paramedic waited with a gurney as a dog searched among the destroyed cars in the massive debris pile.
The south side of the bridge was still attached to a support structure, but the rest of it was on the ground.
A school spokeswoman also did not know how many were injured. She said the campus was less busy than usual because students were on spring break.
“We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge,’ FIU said in a press release.
A family reunification center was set up at FIU’s SASC Building, at 11200 SW Eighth St., Miami-Dade County Emergency Management said on Twitter. The building can be reached by entering the FIU campus at Southwest 107th Avenue and Southwest 16th Street. More information for families is available at 305-348-3481.
A student was struck and killed in traffic near the school in August, 2017, according to a report by WPLG-Ch. 10.
The span, called the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge, was built by MCM and designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers, according to FIU. Bolton Perez and Associates were the construction engineering inspectors, according to the state.
FIGG Bridge Engineers said in a press release that they were “stunned by today’s tragic collapse” and that “Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident.”
The firm said it its 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.”
MCM, also known as Munilla Construction, said in a tweet: “Our family’s thoughts and prayers go to 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.”
It described the company as a family business.
“We are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist,” the tweet said, promising to investigate what went wrong and cooperation with investigators.
In 2016, Munilla Construction was a contractor for the Florida Dept. of Transportation’s project along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, when five bridges were demolished and replaced. The work upset nearby residents.
Construction began in spring 2017 and was expected to last until next year. It was built using Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC methods, meant to reduce risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and allow installation with less interruption to traffic, according to a report on the school’s website.
U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo represents the area and called FIU “the heart of the entire South Florida community.”
Curbelo said he was “extremely disconcerted” by the collapse. “As soon as the immediate needs have been met, we need to get to the bottom of what happened today and ensure that it never happens again.”
His colleague from the South Florida delegation, U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, said as a member of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, “I have many questions about the cause of the bridge’s collapse.”
She said she and staff were “frantically reaching out” to members of her 5000 Role Models of Excellence mentoring program who may attend FIU to see if those students are OK.
U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, said earlier this month in a story on FIU.edu that he believed “the bridge is what creative solutions to transportation challenges look like,” projects that he will continue to support.
The bridge had received a federal TIGER grant in 2013, according to the FIU report. On Thursday, Diaz-Balart expressed shock and horror over the bridge collapse.
“I am praying for the victims and families of this tragedy,” he said, adding that he will work to prevent future construction disasters.
Five years ago, another South Florida college campus endured a tragic construction accident. A parking garage being built on the Doral campus of Miami-Dade College collapsed in October, 2012, killing at least three construction workers or contractors and injuring seven, ABC News reported.
FHP said drivers should avoid the area because Southwest Eighth Street is closed in both directions between Southwest 107th Avenue and Southwest 117th Avenue.
Staff Writers Brett Clarkson, Aric Chokey and Anthony Man contributed to this report.
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