(Credit:Gabriela Collazo)

At Least 6 Dead In Bridge Collapse As Rescue Effort Becomes Recovery Operation

March 16, 2018 - 12:06 pm

MIAMI (1010 WINS/AP) -- The death toll from the pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami on Thursday, is at least six.

The bridge at Florida International University came down at around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. At least one of those killed was an FIU student.

Authorities said there could be fatalities beyond those already reported.

"None have been removed as of yet, only the six that we've been able to confirm are the only ones that we've been able to reach out to," Detective Albaro Zabaleta said.

Zabeleta said the search is not over, although at this point it's strictly a recovery operation.

The 174-foot pedestrian bridge was built on the side of the road, and had been lifted into position only five days before the collapse.

"How could this have happened? This was completely recently installed, this is just ridiculous," one witness said.

Witnesses said it sounded and felt like an earthquake.

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez told reporters Friday, he expects additional victims to be found as the massive concrete structure is removed.

Rescuers were flat on their bellies, feverishly trying to reach those who were trapped. They used dogs and sophisticated listening devices to aid the search for survivors, but police said this is now a recovery operation.

Perez added that the main priority is to get to the victims in vehicles crushed under the rubble as quickly as possible.

The bridge was brand new and not open to pedestrians. While there was no official word on the cause of the collapse, at least one engineering professor questioned the use of an innovative technique to put a bridge over a major highway.

The rapid span method uses a pre-fab bridge that is lifted into place before a central support tower is built.

“Our hearts go out to anybody who has been impacted by this. Being a dad and a grandfather, you just hope that this would never happen to anybody in your family, or any family that you know – in my case, any family in this state,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a news conference.

The governor said an investigation would be launched, and, “We will hold anybody accountable if anybody’s done anything wrong.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) also addressed reporters Thursday night.

"There will be an exhaustive review that will give details on engineering and scientific level as to what the errors were and what led to this catastrophic collapse," Rubio said, adding that such efforts will not be of any comfort for those who lost loved ones, but would be geared toward preventing another such accident from ever happening again.

The 950-ton section of bridge was installed Saturday at Florida International University in the Miami area. The pedestrian bridge was set up to connect the FIU campus to the nearby comumunity of Sweetwater, and had not yet opened to foot traffic. Reports say it only took six hours to install the 174-ft walkway. The project was to include 9,900 feet of event space which would not cross the roadway.

The university made an announcement with fanfare Saturday when the main section of the modularly constructed bridge had been swung into place. The university said the "accelerated bridge construction'' method was supposed to reduce risks to workers and pedestrians and minimize traffic disruption.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg contrasted the hope the community felt when the bridge was completed on Saturday compared with the tragedy that happened on Thursday.

“This bridge, five days ago, we were celebrating that it was in the process of being erected. This bridge was about collaboration. It was about hope. It was about opportunity. It was about determination. This bridge was about strength and unity and about being good neighbors with the city of Sweetwater. This bridge was about goodness, not sadness,” Rosenberg said. “Now we’re feeling immense sadness – uncontrollable sadness.”

A team from the NTSB was also planning to conduct an investigation.