By Doug Stanglin and Alan Gomes, USA TODAY
A newly installed 950-ton pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed Thursday, crushing vehicles on a busy highway below and killing several people, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
At an afternoon news conference, Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp did not elaborate on the number of fatalities, saying only that the final number of victims had not yet been determined.
Teams were in an “urgent search-and-rescue mode” and mobilized search dogs and heavy cranes, he added.
Kemp said eight cars traveling on the seven-lane highway were trapped under tons of rubble. Eight victims were taken to the hospital.
One girl seated in the front of a car escaped injury when a slab of the bridge crushed the rear half of the vehicle, the Miami Herald reported.
(WARNING: Possible Disturbing Content. A pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department. Courtesy of CNN and YouTube. Posted on Mar 15, 2018)
The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted it is sending investigators to the site.
Leslie Vazquez was driving home along 8th Street — also known as U.S. Route 41 —when she realized something felt strange.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, the bridge isn’t there,’ ” said Vazquez, 43, a housewife who lives nearby and traveled the route only two days ago.
She pulled over and saw victims crawling out of the rubble. Some were bloodied, all were frantic. “They were screaming,” she said.
Vazquez said the painful irony of the collapse is that the bridge was built specifically to ensure the safety of FIU students who have to cross fast-moving traffic along the wide street.
“I was just telling my husband how good this is, how they’re not running the risk of getting hit,” she said. “This is so sad.”
The main part of the $14.2 million structure, which was only installed Saturday, spanned 174 feet over the highway, linking the university’s campus to the city of Sweetwater.
It was scheduled to open in early 2019.
(This $9.3 million project will be an iconic cable-stayed pedestrian bridge, connecting the city of Sweetwater with the northern entrance of Florida International University (FIU) over 8th Street. Courtesy of Munilla Construction Management and YouTube. Posted on Nov 18, 2015)
Tana Melvin was sitting in his dorm room a couple hundred yards away from the bridge when his social media feeds started blowing up with news of the collapse.
Melvin, 20, a sophomore studying accounting, said he had several friends who had moved into the off-campus housing that the bridge was designed for.
He was still struggling to contact them Thursday afternoon, and was hoping they weren’t among the victims.
“That could’ve been me,” Melvin said. “A lot of people died. It really is sad. We’ve got to stay together after this.”
FIU spokesperson Maydel Santana-Bravo said the university was “shocked and saddened about the tragic events.” The school is currently on spring break.
(On March 10, the main span of the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge was lifted from its temporary supports, rotated 90 degrees across an eight-lane thoroughfare, and lowered into its permanent position. Courtesy of Jomny Failsunn and YouTube. Posted on Mar 15, 2018)
MCM Construction, the Miami-based, family-owned company that built the bridge, issued a statement on its Facebook page saying its “thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy.”
MCM pledged to cooperate fully with investigators to determine what went wrong.
Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that he was on his way to the scene. “I will be in constant communication with law enforcement throughout the day,” the governor said.
In a press release Saturday about the bridge’s installation, the university reported workers lifted the main span of the bridge from temporary supports, rotated it 90 degrees across the highway and lowered into its permanent position.
“FIU is about building bridges and student safety,” FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said in a statement accompanying the press release.
“ 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 project was built using Accelerated Bridge Construction methods, which are being advanced at FIU’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, the press release said.
That method of construction aims to reduce potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians, and to minimize traffic interruptions.
Construction of the bridge began in the spring 2017 and was expected to be completed in early 2019, according to the release.
Once finished, the bridge would have been 289 feet long and 109 feet tall. The 32-foot-wide bridge was also supposed to serve as study and gathering space.
The bridge was designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers. Barnhart Crane and Rigging operated self-propelled modular transporters that placed the bridge on its permanent supports, according to the university press release.
It was is the largest pedestrian bridge moved using that method in U.S. history.
It was also the first in the world to be constructed entirely of self-cleaning concrete.