A newly erected pedestrian bridge spanning several lanes of traffic collapsed at Florida International University on Thursday, killing four people, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey said.
Emergency personnel with sniffer dogs searched for signs of life amid the wreckage of concrete slabs and twisted metal after the 950-ton bridge crushed vehicles on one of the busiest roads in South Florida.
At least eight vehicles were trapped in the wreckage of the bridge and at least 10 people have been transported to hospitals, officials and doctors told news conferences.
Witnesses told local media the vehicles were stopped at a traffic light when the bridge collapsed on top of them at around 1:30 p.m. ET (1730 GMT).
“We’re working our way into the pile trying to create holes that we can actually physically see,” Miami-Dade Fire Department Division Chief Paul Estopian told reporters.
At one point, police requested television helicopters leave the area so rescuers could hear for any sounds of people crying for help from beneath the collapsed structure, CBS Miami television said.
Complicating the rescue effort was the uncertainty about the integrity of the bridge, parts of which remained off the ground, much of it inclined, local media reported.
The 174-feet (53-meter) long bridge connects the university with the city of Sweetwater and was installed on Saturday in six hours over the eight-lane highway, according to a report posted on the university’s website.
“If anybody has done anything wrong, we will hold them accountable,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott, at a Thursday night press conference, after his office issued statement saying a company contracted to inspect the bridge was not pre-qualified by the state.
The bridge was intended to provide a walkway over the busy street where an 18-year-old female FIU student from San Diego was killed while trying to cross last August, according to local media reports.
Students at FIU are currently on their spring break vacation, which runs from March 12 to March 17.
Munilla Construction Management, which installed the bridge was founded in 1983 and owned by five brothers, according to its website. In addition to its Florida operations, the company also has divisions in Texas and Panama and employs 500 people.
“Munilla Construction Management is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist,” the company said in a statement.
FIGG Engineering said it took part in the bridge project and the collapse was a first in its 40-year history.
Both companies said they would cooperate fully with investigators.