Rescue teams are looking for victims among cars trapped in the rubble of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Florida International University in Miami, officials said Thursday afternoon.
At least eight people have been transported to hospitals to receive medical attention, said a spokesman with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue at a press conference.
Officials said they’re not certain that people are still trapped under the debris but they are continuing to search. “The next few hours is going to be a rescue mission,” said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
At least one person has died as a result of the collapse, Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN affiliate WFOR during a live phone interview. When officials first arrived on the scene, they found eight vehicles underneath the collapsed bridge, said Gimenez, who is in China on business.
A spokesman with the Florida Highway Patrol previously told CNN that multiple people had died as a result of the collapse.
Multiple agencies have responded to the scene. A spokeswoman with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue told CNN there were multiple injuries.
The bridge’s span was just installed Saturday, although construction on the structure was not finished. A tactical response team with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is working to secure the bridge while searching for victims, the agency said on its Twitter account.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board is on its way to Miami, according to a tweet from the agency.
Victims were trapped in cars beneath the rubble
“We heard a loud bang behind us … and we looked back and the bridge had completely collapsed,” said Isabella Carrasco, a student at the University of Miami, who had just passed underneath the bridge in a car. Doctors and medical students ran to the scene from a nearby building and started giving medical attention to victims, she said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was briefed on the incident by Perez, according to a schedule released by his office. He will be on the school’s campus this evening to speak with local law enforcement and university officials, his office said.
Carrasco, the student, said she saw at least five or six cars completely crushed beneath the bridge.
“Someone on the side of the road had asked a police officer if she had heard any response from the people inside the car,” Carrasco said, “and she shook her head and said no.”
Ricardo Dejo, an FIU civil engineering student, told CNN he saw cars pinned beneath the bridge. “I can’t describe it,” Dejo said. “We were really excited about the bridge (before the crash). Everything looked fine. I went underneath it with my own car and it looked great.”
Bridge was still under construction
In a statement, the university said it was “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,” the statement continued. “We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene.”
According to a fact sheet about the bridge on FIU’s website, it cost $14.2 million to build and was funded as part of a $19.4 million grant from the US Department of Transportation. It was designed to withstand the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, the fact sheet said, and was supposed to last for more than 100 years.
The 950-ton bridge was meant to connect the school’s campus to the Sweetwater neighborhood, home to many FIU students, according to a press release on the school’s website.
“Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy,” MCM, one of the companies that was contributing to the construction of the bridge, said in a statement. “The new University City Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse causing injuries and loss of life.”
The statement added that MCM would “conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way.”
Another company involved, FIGG, said in a statement that it was “stunned” by the collapse.
“Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident,” the FIGG statement said. “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.”
Bolton Perez and Associates, a third company involved in the construction of the bridge, is not commenting at this time.
This is a developing story.