Six to 10 people were killed when a newly erected pedestrian bridge spanning several lanes of traffic collapsed at Florida International University on Thursday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida told local TV station CBS Miami.
Eight vehicles were trapped in the wreckage of the 950-ton bridge and eight people have been transported to hospitals, officials told a news conference.
Emergency personnel with sniffer dogs searched for signs of life amid the wreckage of concrete, twisted metal and that rained from the collapsed structure and crushed vehicles on one of the busiest roads in South Florida.
The Florida Highway Patrol previously said several people were killed but did not release a figure on fatalities.
At one point, police had requested television helicopters to leave the area so rescuers could hear for any sounds of people crying for help from beneath the collapsed structure, the Miami TV station 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 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 story that was posted on the university’s website. It was 174 feet (53 m) long and weighed 950 tons.
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The bridge was intended to provide a walkway over southwest Eighth Street, one of the busiest roads in South Florida. An 18-year-old female FIU student from San Diego was killed while trying to cross the street 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.
Television footage showed firefighters were walking across the flattened wreckage and medics treating injured people. Emergency personnel appeared to be trying to work their way through a hole in the top of the bridge.
Student Aura Martinez was having lunch in a nearby restaurant with her mother when a waitress told her the bridge had collapsed. She ran outside and helped pull a woman out her car, most of which was flattened by the bridge.
“Her car, it was literally a miracle of God, her car got squished by the bridge from the back, so she was able to get out and she was on the floor and it was just very traumatic,” she told the local CBS affiliate.
To keep the inevitable disruption of traffic associated with bridge construction to a minimum, the 174-foot portion of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest 8th Street using a method called Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC). It was driven into its perpendicular position across the road by a rig in only six hours on Saturday, according to a statement released by the university.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate the bridge collapse.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump is aware of the collapse.
Florida Governor Rick Scott will head to the scene later in the day, his office said.
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.
FIGG Engineering said it took part in the bridge project and would fully cooperate with investigators, adding the collapse was a first in its 40-year history. (Reporting by Gina Cherelus, Joseph Ax, Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay in New York, Scott Malone in Boston, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, James Oliphant in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Writing by Jon Herskovitz Editing by Lisa Shumaker)