Authorities pull 3 bodies from debris of FIU bridge collapse

Officials expect to retrieve 2 more victims from site Saturday

SWEETWATER, Fla. – Authorities said they have retrieved three bodies Saturday from the debris of a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University. 

The newly installed pedestrian bridge over Southwest Eighth Street collapsed Thursday, trapping eight cars underneath. The size of the debris from the bridge, which weighed at least 950 tons, has complicated the recovery efforts.

Miami-Dade County Police Director Juan Perez said they expected to pull two more bodies from the debris Saturday. One person died at a hospital on Thursday, bringing the total dead to six, but Perez and others said that number could change.

"We may find more victims than initially expected," Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said, noting that four cars still remain under the rubble.

Perez said that he expected the rescue crews' work would be completed in the next 12 hours. The three bodies retrieved Saturday were inside two cars. The cars were towed away early Saturday to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Officers. 

Perez said the victims may have to be identified through DNA and fingerprints because of the extent of their injuries. The crews were proceeding very carefully out of respect for the victims, Perez said. 

He said chaplains were on hand as the bodies were removed and crews observed a moment of silence for each victim.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg was asked about reports that an engineer on the project warned the Florida Department of Transportation about cracks on the bridge before the collapse, but he declined to comment.

The bridge, which was to connect the FIU campus with the city of Sweetwater, was set to open next year. Using modular construction methods, the main span 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.

The Florida Highway Patrol warned drivers that the area around the collapse would continue to be closed to traffic for the next several days. Trooper Joe Sanchez, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, encouraged students to carpool to school on Monday and others to avoid the area entirely.