MIAMI – A newly installed 950-ton pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed Thursday, crushing vehicles on a busy highway below and killing at least four people, officials said.
First responders recovered at least four bodies from the scene, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey said. Nine others were removed earlier and taken to the hosptials, but Downey did not comment on their conditions in a Thursday evening news conference. Search and rescue will continue into the night, he added.
“We have a national tragedy on our hands,” Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez said.
Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said teams were in an “urgent search-and-rescue mode” and mobilized search dogs and heavy cranes to look for victims.
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.
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. It is part of a $124 million expansion of the campus.
The walkway weighed 950 tons and was 174 feet, according to FIU. It was built and designed by Munilla Construction Manageme too in partnership with FIGG Bridge Engineers, the college said.
The university’s news web site had touted the walkway in August 2017 as part of a plan called the University City Prosperity Project.
“We are bridge builders at FIU,” university President Mark B. Rosenberg was quoted at the time. “This station and the pedestrian crossing bridge speaks to our desire to bring alliances with the community and keep our university open to the community.”
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 it into its permanent position.
“FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” Rosenberg said in a statement accompanying the press release. “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.”
But at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday after the collapse, Rosenberg issued a more somber statement. “I am heartbroken at the news of the collapse . . . and the resulting devastation,” he said. “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and their families.”
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. Then came the calls from family and friends checking on him.
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.”