MDPD: 6 people killed in bridge collapse near FIU, recovery efforts underway

WEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - The death toll in a pedestrian bridge collapse near Florida International University has risen to six people, according to Miami-Dade Police.

Search and rescue efforts went late into the night Thursday, as crews held out hope, looking and listening for signs of life. However officials have now began their recovery efforts. “None have been removed as of yet,” said MDPD Detective Alberto Zabaleta, “again only the six that we’ve been able to confirm are the only ones that we’ve been able to reach out to. However, they’re saying ‘at least’, because there is a possibility, the sad possibility, that under the concrete there may be additional vehicles.”

Ten other victims were removed and transported to area hospitals. None of the victims have been identified at this point.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue responded to reports of the bridge collapse at approximately 1:30 p.m., Thursday. Video posted to Twitter showed the bridge on top of several cars on Southwest Eighth Street near 109th Avenue, as police first responded to the scene.

MDFR Division Chief Paul Estopinan said, “Our units responded to find eight trapped vehicles under the bridge.”

Just after 5:45 p.m., heavy-lifting cranes arrived to assist with the search and rescue.

Estopinan said MDFR has scores of technical rescue personnel on the scene. “We have over 100 technically trained TRT, technical rescue specialist and our urban search and rescue team working on the bridge to find viable victims,” he said.

More than 100 firefighters, police officers and paramedics rushed to help, despite the danger.

“I saw several construction workers on the top of the bridge that were very badly injured,” said Sweetwater Police Sgt. Jenna Mendez. “I climbed up, and we had two that were unconscious — one that had a major laceration to his head, and one that was not breathing … I was doing chest compressions with one arm, trying to pull him onto the board just so he would survive, and, supposedly, rescue told us he has made it.”

One man at the scene, identified as Mario, said his friend was walking underneath the bridge the moment it collapsed. “My childhood friend, he was crossing as the bridge was coming down, and it hit him,” the man said in tears. “He was rushed to the hospital. I don’t know. I’m just so worried.”

The man said he is unsure if his friend is OK.

Another witness, Giovanni Hernandez, described the collapse. “Like an explosion. It was loud. It sounded like a bomb, like multiple bombs in one. It was terrible,” he said. “It was super loud. It sounded like the world was ending, and when you look back, all you see is the bridge on the floor. It was awful.”

At first, many people nearby didn’t realize what had happened.

“We were at my friend’s house when we heard it fall, but we didn’t know what it was,” said student Stephanie Ayerdi, “and then we started walking to where all the ambulances were ’cause we saw helicopters, and then we saw that it had fallen.”

“I saw the black car first, and there was a young lady in pink, and she got out, and she was screaming,” said a witness. “I think someone must have been in the back of her car.”

Some people driving through the area helped others get to safety.

“I ran to see if they needed help, and I saw cops carrying people and people injured,” said a man, “and then when I looked closely, it was cars are just squished.”

People who pass under the bridge on a daily basis were in disbelief.

“I was shocked. That was the last thing I would expect to happen,” said witness Jessica Castillo. “I pass under there every single day, mostly when I get off the turnpike right there, I always get caught in the red light under the bridge. So to think that that happened to people is just crazy.”

“I’m traumatized ’cause we were in the light, we turned a left, and that’s when it happened, when we were around here,” said witness Rosa Gonzalez. “I start crying and crying ’cause there’s people there — it could be our family, it could be … it’s human.”

The main part of the 174-foot span was assembled at the side of the road while support towers were built at either end. The 950-ton bridge was meant to connect the City of Sweetwater directly with FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus and help people get across Eighth Street safely.

“Students have been killed crossing the road, so they were trying to prevent stuff by putting up the bridge,” said one student. “You can’t really expect for something like this to happen, and I think that’s all that it is. Everyone was trying to do their best part, and it was really a bold move for FIU.”

“The fact that they were putting this bridge up, it gave me and gave my friends and classmates so much hope that, you know, we weren’t gonna have to deal with this mess anymore of having our lives threatened every time we wanna cross a street,” said witness Corinne Frankel, “and now that this happened, it’s just such a tragic setback.”

According to FIU police, family reunification will be at the FIU Student Academic Success Center. Pedestrians entering the campus should come in through the entrance at Southwest 107th Avenue and 16th Street. For more information on reuniting with family members at FIU, call 305-348-3481.

The university released a statement in response to the collapse, which reads, “We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge. At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information. We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene. We will share updates as we have them.”

FIU President Mark Rosenberg confirmed that a stress test was performed on the bridge before it collapsed. It remains unknown whether the stress test had anything to do with the bridge’s collapse.

“This bridge was about goodness, not sadness,” said Rosenberg. “Now we’re feeling immense sadness.”

The company constructing the bridge, Munilla Construction Management, also issued a statement on Facebook.

“Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. 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.

Gov. Rick Scott also said he is following the situation. “I have spoken with Miami-Dade County Police Chief Juan Perez about the pedestrian bridge collapse at FIU,” he wrote in a tweet. “I will be in constant communication with law enforcement throughout the day.”

Scott also visited FIU Thursday evening to be debriefed by law enforcement.

“There will clearly be an investigation to find out exactly what happened, and why this happened,” said Scott at a press conference after he was debriefed. “We will hold anybody accountable if anybody has done anything wrong. But the most important thing we can do now is pray for the individuals that ended up in the hospital for their full recovery.”

Sen. Marco Rubio also spoke at the press conference. “These people that are doing these engineering studies will tell us what went wrong,” said Rubio, “and that won’t provide any comfort to the families who lost a loved one, but it will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

FIGG Engineering, the company that designed the bridge, said this is the first time something like this has happened in their company’s history.

“We are stunned by today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

President Trump tweeted about the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board have a team on scene investigating the incident.

Southwest Eighth Street between 107th Avenue and 117th Avenue will remain shutdown indefinitely as crews work on the clean up and recovery efforts.

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