FIU bridge collapses, killing seven

A pedestrian bridge scheduled to open to the public early next year near Florida International University’s Modesto Maidique Campus collapsed Thursday, killing several people, according to Florida Highway Patrol officials.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue arrived on the scene to treat those injured and search for survivors trapped beneath the rubble. At least eight cars had been crushed under the walkway, according to police, who later brought K-9 units to search for people.

The number of dead, first listed as four by Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey during an afternoon press conference Thursday, was raised to six Friday morning by Miami-Dade Police PIO Alvaro Zabaleta. One died at the hospital. The other five remain trapped under the bridge.

Downey said rescuers will remain on the scene until every victim is recovered.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed the bridge underwent a stress test earlier Thursday morning.

In a tweet sent at 6:28 p.m., FIU associate economics professor Hakan Yilmazkuday wrote that he had passed underneath the bridge three minutes before it collapsed.

“They had closed the right two lanes underneath it toward the west, apparently not even close to good enough!” he wrote.

Lisbel Marrero, an FIU student, said she was awakened by the sound of the bridge falling. She rushed to her 15th-floor balcony in Tower 109, across from the school in Sweetwater, and saw the wreckage.

“It sounded like a thunder,” she said. “It’s scary to know that it could have happened to a lot more people.”

Several injured were treated on the scene, with many sent to Kendall Regional Hospital for further treatment. Mark McKenney, the hospital’s trauma center director, said they received 10 people ranging in age from 20 to 50, including two in critical condition. One went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated.

McKenney said the hospital did not expect any more patients.

In a written statement published on social media, FIU spokesperson Maydel Santana-Bravo said school officials were “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater Bridge.”

“At this time, we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information,” she said. “We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene. We will share updates as we have them.”

Officials from the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade County and the City of Sweetwater all said the bridge was under FIU’s jurisdiction, not state and local governments.

At 5:08 p.m., FIU President Mark Rosenberg sent an email to students, stating he was “heartbroken at the news of the collapse of the pedestrian bridge on 8th Street and the resulting devastation.”

Gov. Rick Scott responded to the collapse at 2:42 p.m.

The 174-foot, $9.3-million bridge, which would have connected the City of Sweetwater with MMC, was designed by Munilla Construction Management in partnership with FIGG Bridge Engineers, according to FIU News.

On March 5, Munilla was accused in Miami-Dade Civil Court of being responsible for the critical injury of Jose Perez, a TSA employee at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Perez fell from a bridge built by the company on Oct. 20, 2016.

“They built a makeshift bridge in the area where all the employees work, and it was poorly done,” Tesha Allison, Perez’s attorney, told Miami New Times. “He fell and hurt himself really badly. He had multiple broken bones and damage to his spine. They did shoddy work.”

Construction equipment was brought in to remove the rubble and clear the roadway. (Photo credit: Gabriel Poblete)

Construction equipment was brought in to remove the rubble and clear the roadway. (Photo credit: Gabriel Poblete)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Munilla several times in the last five years for violations including dangerous noise, harmful dust exposure and having amputation hazards on construction grounds, according to OSHA’s website.

In June 2012, a bridge span assembled by FIGG in Virginia broke and injured four workers who were installing a 10-by-52-foot prefabricated concrete portion of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, according to Chesapeake fire officials.

Robin Magrisi, a spokesperson for the company, said at the time that the company’s first priority is its crew’s safety.

The Virginia Department of Labor ultimately fined FIGG $28,000, citing several safety rule violations, according to West Palm Beach’s NBC WPTV.

Munilla, which also built the FIU football stadium expansion in August 2012, issued the following statement on Facebook:


The main span of the bridge, which weighed 950 tons and spanned 30 feet, had been up just five days before it fell across eight lanes on Southwest Eighth Street.  It was built using Accelerated Bridge Construction methods, which is meant to “enhance mobility and safety and produce safe, environmentally friendly, long-lasting bridges,” according to FIU’s ABC University Transport Center.

On its website, the U.S. Department of Transportation states bridges are being built using ABC technology throughout the country, with government agencies able to replace bridges “within 48 to 72 hours and reduce planning and bridge construction efforts by years.” The technology, according to the site, helps “improve motorist and worker safety.”

By 4 p.m. Thursday, technicians on the scene had begun to dismantle the bridge. Rescuers dug holes in the wreckage to search for people trapped underneath. Two victims have been rescued so far using the method.

As night fell, rescue teams began using flashlights to search through the rubble. Overnight, the search and rescue mission became a search and recovery effort, according to Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Ofc. Lee Cowart, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department, told the Miami Herald there were no signs of life within the rubble.

By 7 a.m. Friday, with no other survivors expected to be found, the search was called off.

Perez said those found responsible for the collapse could face criminal charges.

Story last updated March 16, 2018, at 11:23 a.m.