Five bodies were extricated from the wreckage of a collapsed pedestrian bridge near Miami on Saturday. With a sixth person who died at a hospital, authorities said Saturday night that they thought they had accounted for all those killed in the collapse.
The first two vehicles extracted Saturday were flattened and had a total of three bodies inside. Work continued, and two more bodies were found Saturday night.
Although authorities had said at one point that the number of fatalities could rise beyond six, they said at a 10 p.m. briefing that they thought they had accounted for all of the dead.
Of the eight vehicles originally caught beneath the 950-ton span, six had been trapped entirely, with four “very difficult to extract,” said Maurice Kemp, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County.
The recovery effort was “very difficult,” said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, but it appeared that crews had “finally got the last victim out.” He said another search through the wreckage would be made. But he said he was “confident that there was no one left.”
Police confirmed that they are reviewing reports that construction workers told of hearing a loud cracking noise from the structure about 8 a.m. Thursday, almost six hours before the collapse.
“That’s all part of the investigation,” said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
At 9 a.m. Thursday, FIU contractors working on the project held a two-hour meeting to discuss a crack in the span. However, the lead engineer concluded that “there were no safety concerns, and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” according to an FIU statement early Saturday, which added that representatives of the school and the state transportation department also attended.
The bridge crashed onto the road at 1:47 p.m.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators identified pieces of the bridge structure Saturday to collect as evidence to “understand the collapse sequence and what caused it,” said NTSB spokesman Christopher O’Neil.Investigators also gathered documents on the span’s design, construction and inspections, he said.
The NTSB’s lead investigator in the collapse, Robert Accetta, has said crews were working at the north end of the span when it fell. They were applying force “designed to strengthen” one of 10 diagonal elements connecting the walkway and an overhead section. Those diagonal pieces, known as members, are “integral parts” of the structure, Accetta said.
“There were two cables that they were working on at that time,” Accetta said Friday evening. “They were internal to that diagonal member.”
He said it is unclear whether the collapse started in that area, and investigators have not determined whether the tightening of those cables “was related to the cracks that they discovered.”
“A crack in a bridge does not necessarily mean that it’s unsafe,” Accetta said.
NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt III said investigators also “want to look at how the contractors identified risk and mitigated those risks associated with the construction of this bridge.”
Late Friday, Florida officials revealed that a lead engineer for the private contractor had left a voice mail for a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) official Tuesday, two days before the bridge fell, warning of “some cracking.”
The engineer, who works for FIGG Bridge Engineers, reported that he did not consider the cracking a safety issue. The state official was out of the office on assignment and did not hear the message until Friday, after the collapse, the department said.
On Wednesday, an FDOT consultant received a call from an employee of Bolton Perez & Associates, the firm hired by the FIU team to oversee construction safety, alerting him to a meeting the following day concerning the bridge, FDOT said. The university said FIGG and the construction firm, Munilla Construction Management (MCM), called a Thursday meeting “to discuss a crack that appeared on the structure.”
During that meeting, a state consultant met with members of the project team but was not told of a safety problem, FDOT said. The state had done a preliminary safety review of the bridge’s design but did not oversee construction safety, a state transportation department official said Friday.
An FDOT spokesman referred safety questions to FIU on Friday, saying it was the university’s project.
At the Saturday briefing, FIU President Mark Rosenberg did not elaborate on FIU’s knowledge of the crack.
“We are cooperating fully with the authorities,” Rosenberg said.
Asked whether he believed that reporting the cracking to the state through a voice-mail message represented “due diligence,” Rosenberg declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he was frustrated that state and university officials were “pointing fingers at the other guy.”
“Whose responsibility was it?” Nelson asked. “If there was a two-hour meeting that occurred from 9 to 11, and the bridge collapsed . . . just a few hours later, then somebody needs to be held accountable.”
Police identified four victims as Oswald Gonzalez, 57; Alberto Arias, 53; Navarro Brown; and Rolando Fraga Hernandez.
Brown died at a hospital, police said. Hernandez was in a gold Jeep Cherokee pulled from the rubble at 5:40 a.m. Saturday, and Gonzalez and Arias were in a white Chevrolet extricated at 7 a.m., police said. Police did not release the names of the final two victims Saturday night. Relatives have confirmed the death of Alexa Duran, 18, according to media accounts.
Perez said chaplains were with victims’ families, and workers held moments of silence as vehicles were brought out “so these victims can have some dignity.”
Martin Weil contributed to this report.