Breaking: "Mass casualties" as new pedestrian bridge collapses in FL; Update: Between 6-10 dead, Nelson says

Just awful. A pedestrian overpass at a Florida university collapsed earlier this afternoon, causing what one Miami Herald reporter was told would be “mass casualties.”

At least six people were injured Thursday afternoon when a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed onto six lanes of road traffic and police believe multiple people have died.

A reporter on scene said Miami-Dade police confirmed “mass casualties” due to multiple cars stuck under thousands of pounds of concrete.

As NPR reports, the bridge was installed less than a week ago:

The bridge was installed at Southwest 109th Avenue Saturday morning, intended eventually to provide pedestrian access across Tamiami Trail from FIU’s main campus to Sweetwater, where thousands of students live in off-campus housing or in FIU’s newer dorms. MCM Construction and FIGG Bridge Design collaborated on the $14.2 million cable-supported bridge. Details about the bridge from a press release about its opening:- 174 feet long- Was put in place on March 10, 2018.- Weight – 950 tons- Largest pedestrian bridge move via Self-Propelled Modular Transportation, in U.S. history, according to senior project manager Rodrigo Isaza, from MCM, which partnered with FIGG Bridge Engineers to design and build the bridge.

This woman nearly ended up under the wreckage. She tells MSNBC that seven or eight cars got crushed under the bridge when it fell:

An engineering student at FIU tells CNN about his excitement over the bridge’s installation over the weekend.

At the White House, Sarah Sanders told the press that the president had been made aware of the tragedy. Governor Rick Scott sent out word that he was on his way to the campus to find out what happened:

Senator Ben Nelson wants the National Transportation Safety Board to begin an investigation immediately, too. There will undoubtedly be several agencies looking into this failure, especially given its days-old installation.

Bear in mind the usual caveats on breaking news stories. Details will change as reporting becomes clearer, and hopefully the number of casualties will not be as high as first responders are indicating as of now. We’ll keep an eye out for firm developments as they happen. In the meantime, pray for everyone impacted by this tragedy.

Update: Still not too many new developments from the collapse itself. Responding agencies believe they have eight cars trapped underneath the rubble, and eight people have gone to local hospitals. However, Miami New Times is raising questions about the track record of the contractors, reporting that this isn’t their first bridge to collapse:

Two of the biggest firms that built the Florida International University pedestrian bridge that collapsed today have recently been accused of unsafe practices. In one of those cases, another bridge project toppled onto workers. …

The FIU project isn’t the first major bridge built by Figg to collapse in recent years. A Figg-assembled span in Virginia fell apart in June 2012 while under construction. Workers were installing a 90-ton concrete portion of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge when it dropped 40 feet onto railroad tracks below, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Four workers suffered minor injuries, but state regulators later said it was pure luck that no one was killed.

“They were fortunate that the injuries were not more serious,” Jay Withrow, director of the legal support division for the Department of Labor and Industry, told the Virginian-Pilot.

Reason’s Christian Britschgi raises concerns about the federal program which oversaw the funding, too:

The pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Florida International University’s Miami-Dade campus today, killing several people, was funded with $11.4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. The TIGER program has come under repeated fire for awarding money based on politics rather than merit. …

n 2014, the GAO released a report that was highly critical of how DOT handled the TIGER V grants, which included money for the FIU pedestrian bridge project. The report said DOT advanced projects with lower technical ratings in lieu of those with higher technical ratings and upgraded the technical rating of 19 projects from acceptable or recommended to highly recommended without documenting a justification. It is unclear from the GAO report whether the FIU bridge project was advanced over more qualified projects or if its technical rating was subsequently upgraded, since the report does not give project-by-project detail.

TIGER, which Reason has covered here, here and here, was created as an economic stimulus measure under President Barack Obama and morphed into a permanent program. It has awarded $5.6 billion in nine rounds of grants since 2009.

For right now, this should be considered background material only. An investigation will be needed to determine the cause of the collapse, so it doesn’t do much good to jump to conclusions at this point.

Update: One other non-collapse question troubles me about this too. Take a look at this aerial picture and see if you spot it:

There is a crosswalk that appears to be no more than 50 feet away from this pedestrian bridge. Was this project really necessary in the first place?

Update: The death toll will be between six to ten people, according to Bill Nelson:

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.