At least four dead in Miami bridge collapse

MIAMI -- A 950-ton pedestrian bridge collapsed near the campus of Florida International University in the greater Miami area on Thursday afternoon.

At least four people died in the accident, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey said, and at least nine people were taken to the hospital for medical attention.

Officials said they're not certain if people are still trapped under the debris but they are continuing to search. "The next few hours is going to be a rescue mission," said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

When officials first arrived on the scene, they found eight vehicles underneath the collapsed bridge, said Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is in China on business.

"The most important thing we can do right now is pray for the individuals who ended up in the hospital, for their full recovery, and pray for the family members who lost loved ones, " Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday night. He said the state would do its best to determine if any wrongdoing led to the collapse and, if so, that people would be held accountable.

"We heard a loud bang behind us ... and we looked back and the bridge had completely collapsed," said Isabella Carrasco, a student at the University of Miami, who had just passed underneath the bridge in a car when it fell. Doctors and medical students ran to the scene from a nearby building and started giving medical attention to victims, she said.

"Someone on the side of the road had asked a police officer if she had heard any response from the people inside the car," Carrasco said, "and she shook her head and said no."

The Miami Herald reports that the bridge, which was meant to connect FIU's Modesto A. Maidique Campus to the small suburban city of Sweetwater, was only placed above the roadway last weekend. It spanned over the busy Southwest Eighth Street.

Many of the university's students live in Sweetwater, the Herald reports, and crossing the busy street was considered dangerous. A student died last August when he was hit by a motorist trying to cross the street.

In a statement, FIU said it was "shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge."

"At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information," the statement continued. "We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene."

According to a fact sheet about the bridge on FIU's website, it cost $14.2 million to build and was funded as part of a $19.4 million grant from the US Department of Transportation. It was designed to withstand the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, the fact sheet said, and was supposed to last for more than 100 years.

The university had touted the bridge's near "instant" installation, in which the walkway was placed above the road in a single morning. The project was ongoing, however, and not expected to open until early 2019.