MIAMI – As federal and state officials prepared to begin investigating the catastrophic collapse of a mbadive pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, authorities announced Friday: the death toll rose to six and there may be more bodies buried in the rubble.
"There is the possibility, the sad possibility, that there may be additional vehicles under the concrete," the Miami-Dade Police Department. Álvaro Zabaleta told reporters at the scene, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The pedestrian bridge, which had been acclaimed by a new construction method, collapsed on a busy road west of Miami on Thursday, crushing at least eight vehicles and leaving rescue teams running to free victims of pieces. of concrete and broken metal.
Vehicles were stopped in a red light when the bridge, which weighed more than 950 tons, crashed around 1:30 p.m. It had been designed to connect the city of Sweetwater with the extensive campus of Florida International University and make it safer for students to cross a frantic road.
"It was going to be a significant project," Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Said Thursday night. "To see it on the ground and below it, those who died and were injured is a tragedy."
The cause of the collapse will be thoroughly investigated, he promised: "Victims and their families deserve to know what went wrong." . There will be an extraordinary review of what the mistakes were and what led to this catastrophic collapse. "
Robert Sumwalt, president of the National Transportation Safety Board, said in Washington on Thursday that a team was immediately heading to Miami to investigate. When asked if the agency knew of deficiencies with this type of bridge, he said he knew of none, but if the researchers determined there were problems, they have the ability to issue urgent recommendations, Sumwalt said.
The NTSB they had said that construction workers were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, he said. "There are many things we do not know," he said, and many investigators try to find out.
[ The deadliest bridge collapses in U.S. history ]
Juan Pérez, director of the Miami Police Department -Dade, said that several families would face "a sad outcome" and that a homicide unit will investigate.
Perez refused to say whether they had been carried out Do tests of resistance on the bridge, which crossed the street Ocho del Suroeste. "It will be days before we have answers," he said Thursday. "This will be an intensive investigation." At this time, we are still in search and rescue mode. "
By Friday, that rescue operation had become a recovery effort, authorities said.
" We do not anticipate finding someone alive there, "a police spokesman, Lee Cowart, said. Miami Herald.
President Trump responded to the "heartbreaking bridge collapse" on Thursday night with prayers plus praise for the first responders.
Alexander Concha, 36, and Ivy Polanco , 23, were about to have lunch on Thursday at Panther's Boulevard Cafe, one block from the bridge.Suddenly, they heard sirens whistling and helicopters above their heads.
"Our first reaction was, we hope that Do not be the bridge, "said Concha." On the side where it collapsed, it did not seem very safe. He seemed very insecure. "
The bridge collapsed during the Florida International spring break.
" It is very fortunate that we are on spring break and that this has not happened during the rush hour, "said Polanco, a student from FIU. "It could have been much worse."
Florida International University on Saturday promoted the bridge's "one-of-a-kind" construction method and praised the permanent installation of the main span of the bridge, stretching 174 feet and weighing 960 tons, according to a press release from the FIU, and was built using "accelerated bridge construction" methods that were being worked on at the university.
"This method of construction reduces the potential risks to workers, travelers and pedestrians. and minimizes traffic interruptions, "the statement said.
When the bridge was installed, the crews used an automated process to lift the road section. Use supports, rotate it 90 degrees through eight lanes and lower it into place, according to the statement. The university said it was the largest pedestrian bridge moved by that method, known as self-propelled modular transport, in US history. UU
"This project is an outstanding example of the ABC method," Atorod Azizinamini, president of FIU Civil and Department of Environmental Engineering, said at the time. "Building the main element of the bridge – its main stretch superstructure – out of the way traveled and away from the busy Eighth Street is a milestone."
The university, a major state school that has experienced increasing enrollment in recent years, had announced on Wednesday that it would begin issuing fines as part of a pedestrian safety campaign to help protect students who walk to campus from Sweetwater and surrounding Westchester. The new bridge was scheduled to be completed in early 2019.
"Just last week we were celebrating the expansion was complete, and now we are dealing with a tragedy," said Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez on Thursday.
bridge builder, Munilla Construction Management (MCM), is a major construction company in South Florida that has been hired to rebuild highways; update part of the Miami International Airport; and build a new test track for the Miami Metrorail system.
Increasingly, MCM has also bid on federal contracts, earning almost $ 130 million in work since 2013. The largest contract is to build a school at the Naval Station of Guantánamo Bay.  MCM is a major contributor to policymakers in Miami-Dade County and has been involved in dozens of lawsuits over the past decade, but often for much smaller issues. This month, the company was sued for damages when an "improvised bridge" collapsed under the weight of a security worker who used it to access a bathroom at the Miami airport. The man suffered injuries to his elbow, shoulder and wrist, according to court records.
MCM has updated business licenses and no recent violations have been reported to state authorities. Recent inspection reports for Thursday's collapse site were not immediately available.
The company could not be reached immediately for comment.
In a statement on its Facebook page, MCM said: "The thoughts and prayers of our family are all affected by this terrible tragedy." The new UniversityCity Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse that caused injuries and Loss of life MCM is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to help, we will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and we will cooperate with investigators on stage in every way. "
According to the university, FIGG Bridge Engineers, a division of FIGG Engineering Group, based in Tallahbadee, designed the catwalk.
The company is behind dozens of iconic suspension bridges, arches and beams in the United States, including the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Maine and the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa.
FIGG said in a statement Thursday that it was "Surprised by today's tragic collapse of a pedestrian bridge that was under construction on Southwest Eighth Street in Miami, and our sincere condolences are with everyone affected by this accident."
] "We will cooperate fully with all relevant authorities in reviewing what happened and why. In our 40 years of history, nothing like this has happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and the injuries badociated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go to everyone involved. "
When asked if construction methods could have influenced the collapse, Ron Sachs, spokesman from FIGG Engineering, said he could not provide any details beyond a statement issued by the company.
"They are in an investigative mode," he said of the company. "They are stunned and certainly in mourning."
Sachs said he believed there would be a thorough investigation that would involve the authorities, including the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, "We will cooperate with each and every one of them," he said.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart ( R-Fla.) He had touted the bridge as a "creative solution" to the challenges to the area's transportation network in FIU's press release over the weekend. The ion issued through his office reflected the sudden turn of events.
"I am shocked and horrified by the collapse of the FIU pedestrian bridge, I am praying for the victims and families of this tragedy," he said. "As the NTSB announced that they will conduct an investigation, I will completely review their findings to address how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again."
Experts say that the bridge's accelerated construction method involves an integrated system of parts designed to remain as a complete structure, but that they must be supported during construction.
Amjad Aref, a researcher at the Bridge Engineering Institute at the University of Buffalo, said the failures can be catastrophic.
"The loss of stability is something sudden, it does not give a warning," said Aref, whose job is to design accelerated bridge construction projects.
Aref said that the construction method has become popular in the last decade. He would not speculate on the cause of the collapse. In general, he said, the process works as follows:
"You bring three pieces, three blocks, each block is really strong and [does] your work, but if they are not connected correctly, they may not be standing ", He said. . "The idea is that in each design you want to carry the load from the superstructure, the surface of the bridge, to the ground safely."
A collapse, he said, would indicate that "the system was not completely connected or was not compatible." . "
Before the structure is finished, said Aref, the crews must ensure that each of its components is secured by wiring or other support mechanisms.
He said the self-propelled modular transport, the installation method of the bridge section, it is common in Europe, the mechanism would normally involve loading the section on heavy machinery with wheels that places the main space between the supports, turns and hydraulically lifts it in place.
The bridge was financed through a federal TIGER grant, according to the university, a recession-era program created under the Obama administration that pays for roads, railroads, and other projects.
The role of Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center FIU on its construction was not clear, the lab says on its website that it received federal funds in September 2013 after the De US Transportation Department UU He recognized a joint funding proposal presented by FIU, Iowa State University and the University of Nevada in Reno. The funds allowed the schools to "go even further into their mission" to investigate the construction of the Accelerated Bridge, the site says. The center received a second round of US DOT funds. UU December 2016.
The center exposes its mission on the site: "The mission of the ABC-UTC is to reduce the social costs of bridge construction by reducing the duration of work zones, focusing special attention on the preservation, useful life, construction costs, education of the profession and development of a next-generation work force fully equipped with knowledge of ABC, "he says.
Calls to a university number and an email to Azizinamini, director of the bridge center, was not returned on Thursday.
Svrluga, du Lac and Siddiqui reported from Washington. Aaron C. Davis, Mark Berman, Alice Crites and Michael Laris in Washington contributed to this report.