Several dead after newly-installed portion of FIU pedestrian bridge collapses

10 taken to Kendall Regional; 950-ton section of bridge installed Saturday

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Carlos Suarez - Anchor/Reporter, Christian De La Rosa - Reporter, Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - A newly-installed portion of a pedestrian bridge connecting Florida International University with the city of Sweetwater collapsed Thursday.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, there are "several fatalities."

"There are no words to articulate. This is completely unfathomable, and I'm nauseated, and it's completely and utterly unacceptable," one FIU student said. 

The 950-ton section of the $14.2 million bridge at Southwest Eighth Street and Southwest 109th Avenue was installed Saturday.

READ: Collapsed bridge was designed for quick installation

Workers at the scene told Local 10 News reporter Carlos Suarez that the bridge was undergoing some sort of stress test when it collapsed. 

Suarez reached out to the construction company for comment, but hasn't heard back, however a vehicle labeled "Structural Technologies VSL" was among those crushed by the bridge. The company manufactures post-tensioning systems for bridges. 

A Miami-Dade Fire Rescue official said at a news conference that they were called to the scene about 1:30 p.m. 

The official said about 100 firefighters and members of the technical rescue team responded to the scene. Search dogs were also brought in to search for possible survivors or bodies in the rubble. 

Eight vehicles were crushed under the bridge, authorities said.

Miami-Dade police Director Juan Perez said the police department's homicide unit will take over the investigation as soon as search and rescue efforts are completed. He said the State Attorney's Office is also on standby. 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said the National Transportation Safety Board will also conduct an investigation. 

SOCIAL MEDIA: Witnesses share what they saw after bridge collapse

The search for victims is expected to continue through the night. Authorities said two victims were extricated from the debris. A photo taken shortly before the collapse shows construction workers on the bridge. 

Sky 10 was above the scene shortly after 2 p.m. as authorities placed a man onto a stretcher. Several vehicles could be seen pinned underneath the bridge and several people were sitting in the median as paramedics attended to them.

A man whose car was damaged during the collapse recorded video afterward and said in Spanish, "Look what happened to us. Look what happened to our car. Look what fell on top of us. Thank God nothing happened to us. The people in the cars in front of us must have died. Luck was on our side."

Local 10 News reporter Christian De La Rosa was at Kendall Regional Medical Center after the collapse, where 10 victims were taken to. 

The hospital's trauma director said at a news conference that one person was in cardiac arrest when he was brought into the hospital. He said doctors were able to restart the man's heart and the victim was then taken into surgery. The patient is listed in critical condition, and suffered injuries to his head and chest.

The trauma director said another patient was in a coma upon arrival. That patient was in surgery at the time of the news conference and is also listed in critical condition.

The doctor said the other eight patients suffered various injuries ranging from bruising to broken bones. He said they are all stable.  

The doctor said a command center has been set up so they can be ready for more victims if needed, but said authorities are not expecting them to receive more patients. 

Miami-Dade police said several agencies responded to the bridge collapse. Authorities are asking people to avoid the area for the remainder of the evening. 

Eighth Street was closed from 107th Avenue west to Florida's Turnpike after the collapse. 

FIU officials previously told reporters that the bridge was being built using Accelerated Bridge Construction methods. The university said the modular construction method reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions. 

The bridge is being built by Munilla Construction Management (MCM), in partnership with FIGG Engineering.

MCM, which was established in 1983, and which specializes in building and heavy civil construction, has done business with the county numerous times.   

"Our family's thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy," the company posted on its Facebook page. "The new UniversityCity Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse causing injuries and loss of life. MCM is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way."

A TSA officer at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport filed a lawsuit against MCM earlier this month, claiming negligence after a make-shift bridge they erected at the airport allegedly "broke under the weight of the plaintiff, causing him to slip" and fall on the floor of the airport's Terminal 4. The TSA officer broke several bones.  

FIGG Engineering also released a statement after Thursday's bridge collapse.

"We are stunned by today's tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami," the statement read. "Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident. We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why. In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved."

The university currently runs shuttles that ferry students across busy Eighth Street safely. A student died crossing Eighth Street in August after the shuttle service ended for the day.

Construction of the bridge began in the spring of 2017 and is expected to be completed in early 2019.

"What was soon to become an iconic staple part of the connectivity between the city and the university has actually turned out to be a national tragedy," Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez said. "Our hearts are here extended out to the victims who were actually able to be transported away, as well as those who may not be walking away from the scene." 

Gov. Rick Scott posted on Twitter that he is on his way to South Florida to be briefed by authorities.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez also said he is monitoring the situation and will be in constant communication with authorities.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this tragedy and with the first responders who are on the scene," he posted on Twitter. 

Miami-Dade police said a family reunification center has opened at FIU's main campus in Room 100 inside the Student Academic Success Center, which is located in front of the bookstore. People are asked to access the campus through 107th Avenue and 16th Street. 

Anyone in need of assistance in finding the center or who believes they might have a relative there is asked to call 305-348-3481.

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