At least 6 dead in FIU pedestrian bridge collapse

Rubio says workers were tightening suspension cables when bridge collapsed

SWEETWATER, Fla. – An innovative construction method that was supposed to reduce risks for workers and pedestrians while minimizing traffic disruptions across from Florida International University's main campus ended in tragedy Thursday.

The pedestrian bridge that connects the city of Sweetwater to FIU collapsed Thursday afternoon, crumbling onto Southwest Eighth Street and killing at least six people, Miami-Dade police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said early Friday.

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

Zabaleta said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue took nine victims to Kendall Regional Medical Center, and one of them later died at the hospital. He said a 10th victim may have arrived on his or her own.

Some of the bodies have not been recovered as engineers meticulously work to safely clear the debris, Zabaleta said.

Federal, state and local authorities were investigating what caused the collapse, but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said Thursday on Twitter that the cables suspending the bridge had loosened and were being tightened at the time.

FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said Thursday that all of the contractors were fully certified by the state and the builder, Munilla Construction Management, was recommended by the Florida Department of Transportation. He also said they were testing the bridge, which was set to open next year. 

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

The very busy Eighth Street, also known as Tamiami Trail, wasn't closed to commuter traffic during the construction or testing phase.

The bridge's 950-ton section flattened eight vehicles traveling on the east-to-west throughway and left at least nine people injured, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey said. Some were taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center's trauma unit.

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators specializing in civil engineering were assisting with the investigation.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he was praying for all of those affected. 

Gov. Rick Scott said the FDOT had a limited role and FIU was managing the project. Scott and Rubio said they were prepared to hold anyone responsible for the tragedy accountable. 

"The families and the survivors deserve to know what went wrong," Rubio said. 

Rosenberg said the $14.2 million project began in 2010. He had just celebrated the 174-foot span that was assembled off-site and moved into place last weekend like a piece of a puzzle to avoid closing traffic on Eighth Street.

FIU touted it as the largest pedestrian bridge in the nation to ever use the innovative method. When the bridge collapsed, the tall tower that was designed to hold the cables attached to the platform had not been installed.  

Miami-based MCM worked with Tallahassee-based Figg Bridge Design to develop the 40-foot wide bridge made out of self-cleaning concrete. 

After the collapse, MCM's ongoing litigation in Miami-Dade County for alleged "shoddy work" at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Figg's reported safety violations in Virginia came to light. Scott said the FDOT was also assisting in the investigation. 

"We will hold anybody accountable, if anybody has done anything wrong," Scott said.

Zabaleta said it's possible there may still be more people beneath the rubble.

The identities of the victims haven't been released.


About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.