The death toll stood at six Friday in the collapse the day before of a pedestrian bridge under construction on the campus of Florida International University. The number was expected to climb as searchers dug through rubble, where several cars remained buried.
Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said the primary focus was to remove all the cars and victims in a dignified matter and not compromise the investigation. He also said officials had “transitioned from a search-and- rescue mission to one of recovery and investigation.”
The transition placed the accident in the hands of state and federal investigators, who were trying to determine why the five-day-old bridge failed. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration joined police Friday in taking over command of the scene from first responders.
‘Not there’ on charges
Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez acknowledged a homicide investigation was under way, but described as premature reports that criminal charges were imminent.
“We’re not there yet,” Perez said. “We just want to get to the bottom … of what occurred so that we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation and so that this doesn’t happen again.”
At least nine people were injured when the bridge fell across a highway, crushing cars in its way.
Mark McKenney, the trauma medical director at Kendall Regional Medical Center, said late Thursday that most of the injured were in stable condition, with “everything from bruises and abrasions all the way to broken bones.” Officials earlier said 10 people were injured.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who represents Florida, visited the bridge site Thursday and said on Twitter, “The cables that suspend the #Miami bridge had loosened & the engineering firm ordered that they be tightened. They were being tightened when it collapsed today.”
The $14.2 million pedestrian bridge was designed to provide easy walking access to the campus for students and members of the surrounding community who have to cross the eight-lane highway to reach the school. A student was struck by a vehicle and killed last year while walking across the dangerous roadway.
“It is exactly the opposite of what we had intended and we want to express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of those who have been affected,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a video.
In what is called Accelerated Bridge Construction, the final 950-ton section that completed the bridge was assembled at a site along the highway. It was placed on a special truck, moved, and put in place in just six hours last Saturday to avoid disrupting traffic.
The bridge was to open for pedestrians next year.
School officials and the company that built the bridge, Munilla Construction Management, had hailed the project as a major achievement.
MCM said on Twitter it was “devastated” and would conduct a full investigation as well as cooperate with other investigators, including the NTSB.
FIU is located in Sweetwater, a small city east of downtown Miami.