MIAMI — Following a briefing Thursday afternoon by law enforcement officials, Gov. Rick Scott said he was headed to Miami to learn more about what caused the collapse of a newly installed pedestrian bridge over a busy eight-lane thoroughfare near Florida International University, crushing multiple cars and causing reported multiple fatalities.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he had spoken to National Transportation Safety Board officials, who told him they would investigate the incident. “Just talked to @NTSB Chairman [Robert] Sumwalt who confirmed he’ll be launching and leading an investigation into the bridge collapse at @FIU“ he tweeted.
Scott tweeted that he had spoken with Miami-Dade County Police Chief Juan Perez about the collapsed bridge and said, he "will be in constant communication with law enforcement throughout the day.” The governor canceled a planned visit to Sanford to travel to Miami.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alejandro Camacho told CBS News that there were "several fatalities." And Miami-Dade County officials said rescue dogs were deployed to the scene, where eight cars remain trapped beneath the collapsed bridge.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been teaching as an adjunct professor at FIU for a decade, said he spoke to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about the bridge collapse, “a horrifying tragedy.”
He said he was saddened to hear the news given his close ties to FIU. “Terrible news coming from Miami as a pedestrian bridge has collapsed at @FIU and multiple deaths are reported,” he tweeted. “We will pray for the victims and the entire Panther community.”
“As soon as the immediate needs have been met, we need to get to the bottom of what happened today and ensure that it never happens again,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), whose South Florida congressional district includes the university.
Munilla Construction Management, the firm that built the bridge, offered condolences and pledged to conduct its own investigation into the “catastrophic collapse“ and cooperate with authorities.
“Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy,” the firm said in a statement. “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.“
The collapsed 174-foot, 950-ton section of the bridge — known as the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge — was lifted from its temporary supports less than a week ago and hoisted onto its permanent position over the heavily traveled roadway that connects motorists traveling to and from FIU near an entrance to the Florida Turnpike.
The bridge was being erected, ironically, to improve safety near the large university of more than 50,000 students. It was not scheduled to open until next year. The installation over the weekend took only a few hours to complete, according to FIU officials.
FIU officials said the bridge was built using “Accelerated Bridge Construction methods,“ which is supposed to reduce “potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions.“ The construction methods were being “advanced“ at FIU’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, according to FIU officials.
Atorod Azizinamini, the chair of FIU’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and director of FIU’s ABC-UTC, called the bridge project “an outstanding example of the BC method“ in a report by FIU published in connection with the construction.
“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,” he said.
At Saturday’s event with several public officials on hand, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg marveled and boasted about the “engineering feat.”
“FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” he said. “We are filled with pride and satisfaction at seeing this engineering feat come to life and connect our campus to the surrounding community where thousands of our students live.”
FIU’s celebration was short-lived.
“We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge,” said a statemen issued by FIU officials. “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.”