Cars, bodies remain trapped in Florida bridge collapse, 6 dead

MIAMI: Workers slowly broke up a newly-built pedestrian bridge that collapsed onto a major roadway in Miami, killing at least six people, with police warning on Friday that more victims could be found in crushed vehicles in the rubble.

The 950-ton bridge plummeted onto traffic on one of the busiest roads in South Florida on Thursday. With at least eight vehicles buried beneath the rubble, the death toll could rise, Juan Perez, the Miami-Dade Police department director, said on Friday.

“There must be some others in the vehicles,” Perez told Miami’s NewsRadio 610 WIOD early on Friday. “We know there’s bodies down there and we can’t get to them. It’s terrible.”

After searching the site with sniffer dogs, police determined late on Thursday that no one would be pulled from the wreckage alive, Perez said at a news briefing on Friday.

The victims have not been publicly identified, but at least one was a student at Florida International University, whose campus borders the roadway, officials told the press conference. The student was female, the university’s president, Mark Rosenberg, told Miami’s 7News.

At least 10 people were taken to hospitals and two were in critical condition, officials and local media reported.

Witnesses told local media the vehicles had stopped at a traffic light when the bridge collapsed on top of them at around 1.30pm ET (1.30am).

Uncertainty over the stability of remaining sections of the bridge hampered rescue efforts, officials said.

News reports saying that engineers may have been conducting a stress test on the bridge that may have led to its collapse could not be confirmed, Perez and other Miami officials told reporters.

Installed on Saturday

The 53-meter long bridge connects the university with the city of Sweetwater and was installed on Saturday in six hours over the eight-lane highway, according to a report posted on the university’s website. “If anybody has done anything wrong, we will hold them accountable,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said at a news briefing late Thursday.

His office earlier issued a statement saying a company contracted to inspect the bridge was not pre-qualified by the state.

The bridge was intended to provide a walkway over the busy street, where an 18-year-old female FIU student from San Diego was killed as she attempted to cross in August, according to local media reports.

Students at FIU are currently on their spring break vacation, which runs from March 12 to March 17.

To limit disruption to traffic during construction, the 174-foot portion of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest 8th Street, using a method called Accelerated Bridge Construction. It was driven into its perpendicular position across the road by a rig in only six hours on Saturday, according to a statement released by the university.

The US$14.2 million bridge 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.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene on Friday to investigate why it collapsed.