By Adriana Gomez Licon, The Associated Press
MIAMI — A new pedestrian bridge collapsed onto a highway at a Miami-area college Thursday, crushing at least five vehicles under massive slabs and killing several people, authorities said.
Several people were seen being loaded into ambulances and authorities launched search and rescue missions. Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alejandro Camacho told CBS News that there were “several fatalities.”
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted that “multiple” people were injured when the bridge connecting Florida International University and the city of Sweetwater collapsed. Authorities said they were working on confirming the numbers. The bridge was still under construction and expected to open to foot traffic next year.
“We are 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 said.
The $14.2 million bridge crossed over a busy seven-lane highway that divided the university’s campus from Sweetwater. The 950-ton, 174-foot span was assembled by the side of the road and installed on Saturday to great fanfare.
The “accelerated bridge construction” method was supposed to reduce risks to workers and pedestrians and minimize traffic disruption, the university said.
“FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said in the statement Saturday.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene. Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that he was headed there as well.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was monitoring the situation and would offer whatever support was needed.
Cristina Rodriguez, a 23-year-old junior who was on spring break with other students, said she was not surprised when she heard the bridge collapsed.
“I just felt the bridge was done too quickly to believe the bridge was stable and sound to support everything that was on there,” said Rodriguez, who was not on campus Thursday but drives through the intersection almost daily.
MCM, the Miami-based construction management firm that won the bridge contract, took its website down on Thursday. But an archived version of the website featured a news release touting the project.
“This our first Design-Build with FIGG Bridge Engineers, a nationally acclaimed, award-winning firm based out of Tallahassee. FIGG has designed iconic bridges all over the country, including Boston’s famous Leonard P. Zakim Bridge and Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge.”
MCM said on twitter that it was “a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will co-operate with investigators on scene in every way.”
FIGG said in a statement it was “stunned by today’s tragic collapse.”
“In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who spoke at a ceremony celebrating the bridge’s construction over the weekend, told CBS there were going to be a lot of questions that have to be answered about what happened.
“Right now the most important thing is going to be to save people who are hopefully still alive,” he said.
Florida International University is the second-largest university in the state, with 55,000 students. Most of its students live off-campus. The bridge was supposed to be a safe way to cross a busy street and a plaza-like public space with seating where people could gather.
In August 2017, a university student was killed crossing the road that the bridge was supposed to span.
Florida International University is also home to the National Hurricane Center.
With files from Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Curt Anderson in Miami and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg.