MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Florida International University’s (FIU) massive new pedestrian bridge collapsed, killing at least four people and crushing several vehicles under it.
“We have located four deceased,” confirmed Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey at a Thursday night news conference.
The 950-ton bridge, located at 109th Ave and 8th Street, came crumbling down onto a number of cars.
“I was looking at the bridge. It was fine and all of a sudden, I saw it collapse from the left towards the middle,” said the witness to CBS4’s Ted Scouten. “I jumped out of my car and I ran towards the victim to see if we could help anybody but when I saw, the only thing you could see were the car lights in the front. It was totally smashed, almost to the ground. So, there was only one girl who survived. It smashed the back-end of her car…they were able to pull her out….They couldn’t get anyone out of their cars. They’re smashed.”
Miami-Dade Police Chief Juan Perez said 8 people have been taken to the hospital and eight vehicles are stuck under the bridge and the number of dead is undetermined. At least one person has reportedly died.
“We do know that there are 8 vehicles that they can see that are under there,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez. “In reality, nobody can tell you if it was a vehicle that only had a driver or had a driver and 4 passengers. So, when you’re asking about numbers, we really don’t know.”
Dr. Mark McKenny at Kendall Regional Medical Center said they have two patients in critical condition and 8 others in stable condition. He said there were other patients taken to other hospitals.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said they continue to search for “viable victims,” meaning they believe someone could be still alive under the rubble. Search and rescue crews are expected to work into the night.
The cars were reportedly stopped at a red light when the pedestrian bridge collapsed around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I saw the bridge just collapse in front of me and it fell on the cars that were sitting, waiting there for the light to change,” the same witness told Scouten.
“I just heard a really loud crash…I ran to my balcony and then I saw that it was down,” said witness Chelsea Morsey who lives in a high-rise tower just feet away from the bridge. “It was complete chaos. There was everybody running around and I saw just a couple of cars like sticking out.”
“There were no warning signs. It looks like it just came down,” an official told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.
Senator Bill Nelson says the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is “launching and leading an investigation into the bridge collapse.”
Witness Aura Martinez who spoke with CBS4 said, “It was such a scary feeling because I saw [the collapse] and I didn’t know what to do,” she told CBS4. “It just literally killed people and so we ran out there and tried to help people we saw. One girl, her car, it was literally a miracle of God because her car was just squished at the back. … It was very traumatizing.”
Martinez is a sophomore who was trying to find her friend who was one of the victims in the car when the bridge collapsed.
FIU issued a statement to about the deadly incident, saying,
“We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge. At this time we are still involved in the 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.”
The president of FIU, Mark Rosenberg, issued a statement saying he was ‘heartbroken’ by the news, saying in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and the families. We are working to appropriate agencies to assist in rescue efforts.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott will be at FIU this evening to get briefed by law enforcement and school officials. He says he’s spoken with Miami-Dade Police Chief Juan Perez and will stay in contact with law enforcement through the day.
A family reunification center has been set up at FIU’s campus in the Student Academic Success Center (SASC), Room 100. Families or friends worried that someone they know could have been a victim can call 305 348-3481.
As for traffic in the area, 8th Street is shutdown in both directions. Law enforcement is asking the public to avoid the area between SW 107th Ave to SW 117th Ave and 8th Street indefinitely.
“Please stay out of the area,” said Chief Perez.
The company that built the bridge, MCM, issued a statement saying: “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.”
FIGG Bridge Group also helped put together the bridge and issued a statement saying: “We are stunned by today’s tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami. 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.”
Barnhart Crane and Rigging moved the bridge into place on Saturday. They issued a statement saying in part: “Barnhart Crane and Rigging was saddened by the news of the tragedy that occurred in Miami with the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge. Barnhart was contracted to move the bridge into place and was not involved with the design or construction of the bridge. Our scope of work was completed without incident and according to all technical requirements.”
The bridge went up on Saturday . It was then lowered into its final position, just west of 109th Avenue that day. The main span was built next to Southwest 8th Street.
The bridge was meant to be part of a larger transportation initiative to create a safer path for students and local residents. It was constructed using an innovative approach to bridge construction – a technique meant to reduce potential risks to workers, commuters, and pedestrians and prevented traffic tie-ups in the area.
The positioning of the bridge Saturday was the largest pedestrian bridge move via Self-Propelled Modular Transportation, in U.S. history.
Funding for the $14.2 million bridge, connecting plazas and walkways is part of a $19.4 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Other funding agencies include the Federal Highway Administration, Florida Department of Transportation Local Agency Program, FIU and the City of Sweetwater.
Construction for the bridge began in the spring of 2017 and was expected to be completed in early 2019.
(GALLERY: Pictures showing the scene of the bridge collapse)