[updated 17 March] MIAMI — Six people were killed when a pedestrian bridge hailed for a novel construction method collapsed Thursday over a busy road west of Miami, crushing eight vehicles and leaving rescue workers racing to free victims from chunks of concrete and snapped metal. Search and rescue operations were aborted on 17 March, after no more survivors were found.
Nine survivors were taken to hospitals, a fire department official said. Vehicles were stopped at a red light when the bridge, which weighed more than 950 tons, crashed down about 1:30 p.m.
The bridge was designed to connect the city of Sweetwater with the sprawling campus of Florida International University, and to make it safer for students to cross a frenetic roadway.
“It was going to be a significant project,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday night. “To see it on the ground and underneath it those who died and who were injured is a tragedy.”
He said the cause of the collapse will be fully investigated. “The victims and their families deserve to know what went wrong. There will be an extraordinary review into what the errors were and what led to this catastrophic collapse,” Rubio said.
Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said Thursday night that a number of families would face “a sad outcome” and that a homicide unit will investigate.
President Trump responded to the collapse Thursday evening with prayers.
Perez declined at an earlier news conference to discuss whether stress tests had been conducted on the bridge, which crossed Southwest Eighth Street. “It will be days before we have answers,” he said. “This will be an intensive investigation. Right now, we are still in search-and-rescue mode.”
On Thursday evening, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference in Washington that a team was headed immediately to Miami to investigate. Asked if the agency knew of deficiencies with this type of bridge, he said he did not know of any. But he said if investigators determined there were problems, they have the ability to issue urgent recommendations.
He said the agency had been told construction workers were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. “There’s a lot we don’t know,” he said, and much investigators intend to find out. “We will be there tonight and we will start talking to people tonight.”
A news release from Florida International University on Saturday had touted the bridge’s “first-of-its kind” construction method, and hailed the permanent installation of the bridge’s main span. It stretched 174 feet and weighed 960 tons, according to the release, and was built using what are called “Accelerated Bridge Construction” methods being worked on at the university.
“This method of construction reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions,” the release said.
When the bridge was installed, crews using an automated process lifted the span from its supports, turned it 90 degrees across eight lanes and lowered it in place, the release said. The university said it was the largest pedestrian bridge moved by that method, known as self-propelled modular transportation, in U.S. history.
“This project is an outstanding example of the ABC method,” Atorod Azizinamini, chairman of FIU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said in the release. “Building the major element of the bridge — its main span superstructure — outside of the traveled way and away from busy Eighth Street is a milestone.”
Aerial footage shows vehicles stuck underneath the 950-ton bridge. First responders were seen placing one victim in an ambulance.
“Me and my boyfriend had just driven under the bridge,” witness Isabella Carrasco told CBSN. “We actually commented on how new it was … We had heard a loud bang. At first, we thought we had hit something, and when we looked around, we realized the bridge had collapsed on multiple cars. I didn’t see any pedestrians walking on the bridge. When we looked around we saw that it was much, much worse.”
See Dash Cam video footage here:
Survivor of FIU bridge collapse sues design-construction firms for reckless negligence
Two days after the last body was removed from a collapsed bridge near FIU, the first civil lawsuit stemming from the tragedy has been filed — and it alleges reckless negligence on the part of the companies that did design and construction.
Marquise Rashaad Hepburn, who lives in Miami-Dade County, was “seriously injured” as he rode his bicycle under the pedestrian bridge spanning Southwest Eighth Street at 109th Avenue, near the main campus of Florida International University, according to a lawsuit filed Monday morning in state Circuit Court in Miami. As the massive, 174-foot concrete slab came crashing down, a car swerved into Hepburn, sending him airborne, according to the suit.
Not the first time
Obscured in a seemingly trivial financial dispute between the contractor for the collapsed bridge at Florida International University, Munilla Construction Management (MCM), and a former subcontractor is evidence of another collapse at an MCM job site in 2014, which caused work to stop for weeks due to unsafe conditions.
The story is contained in hundreds of documents — including depositions, expert witness testimony, and a final judgment in favor of the subcontractor. While it is not unusual for a large company to face a lawsuit or lawsuits — and the financial stakes of the court battle were minimal — there is at least one parallel: what an attorney for the plaintiff called a “catastrophic failure,” in this case the collapse of several critical retaining walls that MCM installed.
Late in the afternoon on Jan. 31, 2014, temporary retaining walls at an MCM bridge reconstruction site in Miami failed in quick succession, causing a cave-in under a water main located just feet from Red Road, also known as State Road 823, according to transcripts from the trial. The collapse left the pipe that supplies water to most of Hialeah totally exposed. Workers who were excavating a trench at the time moved out of the way, and no one was injured.
“Luck was with us,” said Dime Morales, a project manager for the subcontracted crew on the scene. Morales told the Miami Herald he thinks many people could have been injured, and maybe even died that day if events had unfolded slightly differently. “If something would have happened to the water main, with all of the water pressure, you wouldn’t know how much of the road it would have taken with it,” he said. The pressurized torrent from a burst water main could have collapsed the nearby road, he said, threatening his crew and those passing by in traffic.