MIAMI — As federal officials began investigating the catastrophic collapse of a pedestrian bridge here, authorities made a grim announcement: The death toll has climbed to six — and more victims may be buried in the rubble.
“Our first priority is getting to those victims,” Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said Friday morning. But, he added, it is a slow and painstaking process to break the debris into smaller pieces for removal, and to reach the vehicles that were crushed when the 960-ton span collapsed Thursday afternoon.
The foot bridge was designed to connect the city of Sweetwater with the sprawling campus of Florida International University, and it was still being installed when it came crashing down. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said suspension cables on the bridge “were being tightened when it collapsed.”
Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez said Friday that one of the victims in the accident was an FIU student. “We are truly saddened to hear that,” Lopez told reporters at a news conference.
The student wasn’t publicly identified (“it’s up to the medical examiner to release the names,” FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg told Fox affiliate WSVN), and authorities haven’t named any of the other victims, either.
Perez, the police director, said officials would not speculate about the likely number of fatalities until the recovery process is complete. Authorities want to bring closure to worried family members, he said, but can’t confirm identities of who is underneath the rubble. “We’re caught in a bad place right now,” he said.
“Our primary focus is to remove all of the cars and all of the victims in a dignified manner and not compromise the investigation in the process,” Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said Friday. “The investigation is vital, because we want to ensure that this type of accident doesn’t happen again locally, or anywhere in this country.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Highway Administration are investigating, as well as the county police department’s homicide detectives. A team of county prosecutors arrived at the scene Friday, as well.