Four people have been found dead in the rubble of a collapsed South Florida pedestrian bridge in south Florida where the frantic search for any survivors continued past nightfall, officials said.
Fire Chief Dave Downey said at an evening news briefing that four deceased people were found amid the chaotic scene of concrete rubble and crumpled vehicles.
He said nine victims were removed ‘early on’ and taken to hospitals but did not elaborate on their conditions. He said the ‘search and rescue mode’ – deploying trained canines, search cameras and sensitive listening devices – was continuing into the night.
Governor Rick Scott also spoke to reporters, saying ‘everybody is working hard to make sure we rescue anyone who can be rescued’.
The Florida governor added that an exhaustive investigation now beginning will get to the bottom of ‘why this happened and what happened’ and vowed that anyone who did anything wrong would be held accountable.
Miami-Dade police director Juan Perez praised the actions of first responders during a news conference but acknowledged the likelihood of finding more victims under the rubble was growing more difficult with the passage of time.
‘We know that there’s going to be a negative outcome at the end of the day,’ Mr Perez said.
The bridge was under construction and collapsed on to a busy Miami highway on Thursday, crushing at least eight vehicles under massive slabs of concrete and steel. One side of the bridge led to Florida International University (FIU), a school west of the city’s downtown.
Search-and-rescue crews drilled holes into the debris and used their highly trained dogs to look for survivors. They had to work carefully because part of the structure was still unsafe. At least 10 people were taken to hospitals. The number of fatalities was not immediately known.
The 950-ton bridge had been assembled by the side of the highway and moved into place on Saturday to great fanfare. The span stretched almost 200ft to connect Florida International University with the city of Sweetwater. It was expected to open to foot traffic next year.
‘This bridge was about goodness, not sadness,’ said FIU president Mark Rosenberg. ‘Now we’re feeling immense sadness, uncontrollable sadness. And our hearts go out to all those affected, their friends and their families. We’re committed to assist in all efforts necessary, and our hope is that this sadness can galvanise the entire community to stay the course, a course of goodness, of hope, of opportunity.’
Jacob Miller, a senior at FIU, was visiting a friend in a dorm when he heard sirens and horns honking. He went to a balcony and could see rubble coming down.
‘I saw there were multiple cars crushed under the bridge. It was just terrible. I saw some people stopping their cars, trying to get out, trying to assess the situation to see if there is anything they could do to help,’ he said.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt III said a team of specialists was heading to Miami on Thursday night with plans to begin its investigation on Friday morning.
Miami-Dade Police director Juan Perez said his department’s homicide team would take over the investigation after rescue efforts are complete.
Munilla Construction Management (MCM), the Miami-based construction management firm that won the bridge contract, had a news release on its website touting the project with FIGG Bridge Engineers, a Tallahassee firm.
It said initial reports that it had taken its website down were incorrect and that the site had become temporarily unavailable due to increased web traffic. ‘It has since been restored,’ the company said in a statement.
MCM said on Twitter that it was ‘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.’
FIGG said in a statement, ‘In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before.’
Florida International University is the second largest university in the state, with 55,000 students, most of whom live off-campus. The bridge was supposed to be a safe way to cross a busy highway.
A university student was killed in August while crossing the road that the bridge was supposed to span.
The president of Florida International University has paid his condolences on Twitter, saying the bridge collapse in which four people died ‘stuns us, it saddens us’.
‘It’s exactly the opposite of what we had intended and we want to express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of those who have been affected,’ Mark Rosenberg said in the post on the university’s profile.