Death Toll Rises to 6 in Bridge Collapse as Florida Gov. Promises to Hold People Accountable

"All of the sudden you hear a loud bang, and I looked to one of the command staff and said, 'Oh my God!'" one witness said

What to Know

  • A 950-ton pedestrian bridge near FIU collapsed Thursday, killing several people and crushing cars just days after its installation.
  • Authorities said 6 people were killed while 10 were taken to the hospital after the collapse with one of those among the dead.
  • Families are advised to call FIU at 305-348-3481 for more information.

As investigators continue to search the site of a deadly collapse involving a 950-ton pedestrian bridge near Florida International University in Miami Thursday, officials say the death toll has risen. 

Early Friday morning, the Miami-Dade Police Department confirmed that six people have died as a result of the collapse.

"This has turned into from a rescue to a recovery operation," Det. Alvaro Zabaleta said.

Ten others were taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center from the site of the collapse, with two being listed in critical condition when they arrived. One person died at the hospital. Officials have not confirmed if it was one of the 10 taken there or if it was someone who was brought in themselves.

"Our hearts go out to anybody that's been impacted by this. Being a dad and a grandfather — you just hope this would never happen to anybody," Gov. Rick Scott said at an evening press conference. 

What caused the bridge — the main portion of which was installed just last week — to collapse has not been determined. The governor promised a concerted effort to "hold anybody accountable if anyone's done anything wrong." The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to the site to look into the cause.

But, Scott said, the most important matter for now was to pray for the people who are recovering and for the families of those who have died.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that before the collapse, the new bridge had inspired a sense of pride within the community.

Rubio — who said he has worked as an adjunct professor at FIU for about 10 years — called the disaster "troubling and tragic."

"FIU is home," the senator said at the press conference.

The 174-foot-long bridge, scheduled to open to the public in early 2019, crossed Southwest 8th Street near 109th Avenue and was built to allow students living across the busy roadway to cross safely. 

Rubio said the cables used to suspend the bridge had loosened and that the engineering firm ordered they be tightened.

"They were being tightened when it collapsed today," Rubio said.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg said stress tests were conducted earlier on the day of the collapse. 

“I know the test occurred today and I know, and I believe, that they did not prove to lead anyone to the conclusion that we would have this kind of result," he said. 

"It is a cruel irony that the structure was built to keep FIU students safe as they walk from their residences to campus," said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in a statement.

President Donald Trump said he was "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," the president tweeted. 

Dr. Mark McKenney, the trauma medical director at Kendall Regional Medical Center, said that 10 people were brought to the hospital from the scene. Two patients were in critical condition, while the other eight were stable. 

Eight cars had been pinned underneath the slabs of concrete, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey said. Authorities searched the wreckage for hours looking for any additional victims.

Susie Bermudez was driving and saw the bridge collapse right in front of her.

"I was three seconds away from being under the bridge, but I looked forward. All of a sudden I saw the bridge collapse, and it started from the left side of the bridge and it really shocked me,” she told NBC News. 

"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.

Jose Mejia was having coffee with city officials and police when the bridge gave way, he told MSNBC.

“All of the sudden you hear a loud bang, and I looked to one of the command staff and said, ‘Oh my God!’ then they looked at me and they said ‘the bridge’ — I say, ‘no, it can’t be!’” Mejia said. “And one of them runs to grab their radio and sure enough, it’s the bridge."

Mejia, who lives in Sweetwater, said he rushed to the scene with police where he saw numerous cars trapped under the bridge.

"There was a young gentleman in a red Honda, and unfortunately there was nothing I could do, but he stuck his hand out and, at that point, he passed away, he expired," Mejia said.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district includes the campus, expressed sorrow over the collapse.

“The University is at the heart of the entire South Florida community. It’s a place where people from all over the world come to debate ideas, learn and grow. My staff, family and I are thinking of all those affected," Curbelo said in a statement.

The bridge was part of a $19.4 million project partially funded by the Department of Transportation and had been hailed in recent weeks for finishing ahead of schedule.

The university promoted the project in a press release last week after the main span of the bridge was lifted from its temporary supports and lowered into its intended permanent position. FIU tweeted that the “first-of-its-kind pedestrian bridge” had swung into place. 

“FIU is about building bridges and student safety,” Rosenberg said at the time. “This project accomplishes our mission beautifully.”

The 30-foot-wide bridge — with the main span weighing around 950 tons — was to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to share the bridge. It was planned to illuminate at night and had a canopy to shelter those crossing.

The Munilla Construction Management company and FIGG Bridge Engineers partnered to design and build the bridge. According to FIU’s website, FIGG designed Boston's Leonard P. Zakim Bridge and Florida's Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

"The MCM family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy," the Miami-based company said in a statement. The company said it "will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way."

“We are stunned by today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami," said a statement from FIGG. "In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before."

A family reunification center is located on the campus of FIU in the Student Academic Success Center Room 100. Families are advised to access the building via SW 16th Street and 107th Avenue or they can call 305-348-3481.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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