New pedestrian bridge collapses at Florida International University, crushing eight cars driving underneath

A pedestrian bridge under construction at Florida International University west of Miami collapsed Thursday afternoon, crushing eight vehicles on the road beneath and injuring multiple people, according to police.

Because of the size and weight of the walkway — it weighs more than 950 tons — the damage is significant, said Lt. Alex Camacho of the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. More Miami-Dade Fire Rescue teams than he could count were working at the scene, checking for survivors, he said.  “I have no idea what lies underneath, in the rubble,” Camacho said.

Eight people with injuries were taken to hospitals, a fire official said. The bridge collapsed about 1:30 p.m., the fire official said.

Several emergency agencies are responding and the situation is evolving, according to Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department. The bridge, still under construction, was designed to connect the university campus to the city of Sweetwater, and crosses Southwest Eighth Street, a major road that stretches from downtown Miami to the far western reaches of the county.

A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said the agency got a call shortly before 2 p.m. and that multiple people are injured but an exact number was not available.

Southwest Eighth Street is closed in both directions as emergency crews work at the scene, Camacho said.

The bridge, adjacent to FIU’s campus, had just been installed over the weekend and was not yet open to pedestrians.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday it was dispatching a team to Miami to investigate the bridge collapse.

A spokeswoman for the university did not immediately return messages seeking comment. But officials sent a statement Thursday afternoon:

“We are shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge. 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. We will share updates as we have them.”

A news release from Florida International University on Saturday touted the bridge’s “first-of-its kind” construction method, and hailed the permanent installation of the bridge’s main span. The bridge section was 174 feet and 960 tons, according to the release and was built using what are called “Accelerated Bridge Construction” methods being developed at the university.

“This method of construction reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions,” the release said.

Crews 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,” said Atorod Azizinamini, chairman of FIU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, 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.”

Last year, the Miami Herald reported that a FIU student was killed while crossing Southwest Eighth Street.

FIGG Engineering, which designed the bridge, released a statement Thursday afternoon: “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.”

Asked if the construction methods might have factored into the collapse, Ron Sachs, a spokesman for FIGG Engineering, said he could not provide any details on the collapse beyond a statement issued by the company.

“They’re in a fact-finding mode” along with authorities, he said of the company. “They’re stunned and certainly in mourning.”

Sachs said he believed there would be a comprehensive investigation involving authorities, including the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We’re going to cooperate with any and all of those,” he said.

Mark Berman contributed to this report. 

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