Florida International University was the center of a horrific tragedy this Thursday as a pedestrian bridge under construction collapsed onto the road below, killing four and injuring many more.

Aerial footage showed first responders tending to victims at the scene, searching for people in the rubble and loading others on stretchers into ambulances.

Firefighters have pulled out at least four deceased people from the rubble, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey said at a Thursday evening press conference.

The collapse occurred at about 1:30 p.m., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Division Chief Paul Estopinan said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

As of 5 p.m., a minimum of eight vehicles were trapped under the rubble, Estopinan said. Some workers were on the bridge when it collapsed, but officials did not detail whether any of them were among the dead.

In addition to the dead, a number of people were severely injured.

Dr. Mark McKenney says at a news conference Thursday that two of the people Kendall Regional Medical Center received were in “extremely critical” condition. He says the other eight were stable, with injuries such as “bruises and abrasions to broken bones.”

Of the two more serious cases, McKenney said one arrived at the hospital in cardiac arrest but was revived, and the other has a serious brain injury.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate the collapse to determine the cause. While there is no known cause at the present time, some troubling information has been revealed in news reports.

For example, the bridge was undergoing a stress test at the same time the 7-lane road underneath was open to traffic.

…Any such test, experts told the Miami Herald, requires extreme care and precision to avoid overwhelming the structure. Too much weight on the bridge or over-tightened cables could cause problems.

The firms behind the project are Miami-based MCM and Figg Bridge Group, a well-known Tallahassee design company. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that crews were conducting a stress test on the bridge Thursday, and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue confirmed two workers were on the bridge when it collapsed.

Furthermore, the two of the firms involved in the bridge construction [Munilla Construction Management (MCM) and the FIGG Bridge Group] have had a recent history of significant safety complaints.

… 10 days ago, the company [MCM] was sued in South Florida by a TSA employee who was hurt at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The employee’s lawyer alleges that a makeshift bridge MCM built for workers to use while the company does construction at the airport broke under his weight.

As for FIGG, a 90-ton portion of a bridge the company was assembling in Virginia in June 2012 fell apart while under construction. The Virginian Pilot reports four workers were hurt and that state regulators fined FIGG $28,000 for safety violations saying it was “pure luck no one was killed.”

The project included a 174-foot, 950-ton section that was built adjacent to Southwest Eight Street using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods. According to the university, the bridge was slated to open in 2019 to foot traffic and was touted to be historic in many ways:

  • It was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.
  • Its durability was supposed to exceed 100 years.
  • It’s the first bridge in the world to be constructed entirely of self-cleaning concrete: It’s made of titanium dioxide which, when exposed to sunlight, captures pollutant particles from the air and cleans its own concrete surfaces.
  • It was installed in just a few hours just five days ago, although its construction wasn’t finished.
  • The main span was built nearby to avoid traffic interruption and moved using a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled system that carried and set the 950-ton section. It’s called Self-Propelled Modular Transportation and this was the largest pedestrian bridge in US history to be moved using this method.

Sadly, the FIU pedestrian bridge has made history. Hopefully, the root causes of the collapse can be clearly determined so this incident will not be repeated.