At least four killed after pedestrian bridge at Florida college collapses

Posted on: March 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

GabrielaRose12/Twitter(MIAMI) — A newly installed bridge touted as a feat of engineering collapsed on Florida International University’s campus on Thursday, killing at least four people.

Aerial footage showed first responders tending to victims at the scene, searching for people in the rubble, and loading others on stretchers and into ambulances. They were able to pull at least two people who were trapped, officials said.

The collapse occurred at about 1:30 p.m., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Division Chief Paul Estopinan said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

As of 5 p.m., a minimum of eight vehicles were trapped under the rubble, and eight people had been taken to the hospital, Estopinan said. Some workers were on the bridge when it collapsed, but officials did not detail whether any of them were among the dead.

Ten injured victims, labeled as Level 1 trauma patients, were transported to nearby Kendall Regional Medical Center, program director Dr. Mark McKenney said in a press conference.

One of the patients was in cardiac arrest and another was in a coma with “severe extremity injuries” when they arrived, McKenney said. Those patients were in critical condition.

Eight other patients admitted to the hospital suffered from traumatic injuries such as bruises, abrasions and broken bones, but were in stable condition, McKenney said.

The victims’ ages ranged from 20 to 50 years old, McKenney said.

More than 100 firefighters were on the scene working to find victims with the help of cranes and search dogs, and officials were working to stabilize the bridge. Their efforts are expected to be “long and arduous” and last well into the night, officials said.

One first responder, who owns a business across the street from the scene, worked on a victim for 15 minutes to keep him or her alive, said Orlando Lopez, mayor of the city of Sweetwater.

Witness Suzy Bermudez told ABC News that she was sitting in traffic when she saw the bridge collapse from the left and then toward the middle.

Bermudez then jumped out of her car to run and help before she saw car lights that were smashed so badly that they were almost hitting the ground.

One girl survived because her car was smashed on the rear, so Bermudez and others were able to pull her out, she said.

FIU student Aleia Stillwell told ABC News that she was in her car when the structure fell in front of her.

The collapse sounded like thunder as the pieces of the bridge fell, she said.

Stillwell said she thanked God that she was driving slower than usual, adding that it could have been her under that bridge.

Another driver, Jonathan Munoz-Conway, described the scene to ABC News as surreal and terrifying, adding that he had just driven under the bridge about 30 seconds before it collapsed.

Munoz-Conway said that after he drove past, he turned right into a parking garage next to the bridge. He then heard a loud bang and assumed he had hit something with his car before he heard a girl scream and saw police officers rushing to the scene.

Witness Tiona Page told ABC News that the screams coming from the cars were “terrifying.”

“As soon as I looked outside, I saw dust flying everywhere,” she said. “I knew the bridge had collapsed.” Bystanders rushed in to help those trapped, but struggled to dig through the rubble.

It was not immediately clear what led to the collapse.

The street that the bridge stretches over, 8th Street, is a busy seven-lane road that runs from downtown Miami all the way to the Everglades. Students and faculty had been calling for a bridge at the crossing of 8th Street and 109th Street, where pedestrians were required to cross through heavy traffic, The Miami Herald reported.

The bridge was supposed to be iconic for the city, Lopez said.

A section of 8th Street was closed over the weekend to allow workers to position the 174-foot bridge, according to PantherNOW, a university newspaper.

FIU touted the bridge to be one of the first of its kind, tweeting that it swung into place on Saturday.

In a statement, the university said it was “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding on campus.”

“At this time, we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information,” the university said. “We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene.”

According to an FIU press release, the 174-foot, 950-ton bridge was just installed “in a few hours” using “accelerated bridge construction” methods, which the university said “reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians, and minimizes traffic interruptions.”

One of the companies that constructed the bridge, Munilla Construction Management (MCM), said in a statement that it will conduct a “full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong” and that it will cooperate with investigators on the scene “in every way.”

“The new UniversityCity Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse, causing injuries and loss of life,” the company said. “MCM is a family business, and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist.”

Another company that took part in the bridge’s construction, FIGG Engineering, said in a statement that it was “stunned” and that “nothing like this has ever happened before” in its 40-year history.

“Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident,” the company said. “We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why.”

The bridge was scheduled to be fully completed in January 2019, PantherNOW reported. It cost a total of $14.2 million, largely funded by an $11.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, a DOT spokesperson told ABC News.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a press conference Thursday that he would “hold anybody accountable” culpable of wrongdoing during the conception and construction of the bridge.

Scott will travel to Miami Thursday evening to be briefed by local law enforcement, his office announced.

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez released a statement saying he is “actively monitoring” the “tragic situation” from abroad. He has dispatched Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp to the scene, he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this tragedy and with the first responders who are on the scene,” Gimenez said.

FIU is one of the top 10 largest universities in the country, with nearly 54,000 students enrolled, according to its website.

The National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into the collapse.

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