MIAMI — At least six fatalities have been confirmed following the collapse of a pedestrian bridge over Tamiami Trail on Thursday.
But at a news conference Friday morning at the Florida International University Tamiami campus, Miami-Dade Police Department director Juan Perez said the names of the people killed in the collapse would not be made public until their families had been notified.
Perez implored the media to refrain from revealing the names of the deceased, out of respect to their relatives who may not have been notified yet. He also warned that the final death toll could still climb, since the painstaking process of clearing rubble, documenting evidence and removing the dead is still in progress.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers, homicide detectives, engineers and NTSB workers have been working the scene since Thursday afternoon, when a pedestrian bridge crashed down across eight lanes of Southwest Eighth Street. The accident occurred only five days after an elevated 950-ton span had been put into place, the first piece of an intended walkway scheduled for completion in 2019 that would have connected FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus to pedestrians in the neighboring city of Sweetwater.
Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, also spoke at the conference, saying his group would be conducting an investigation independent of local authorities and expected the work would begin Friday afternoon.
"We are here to determine the cause and make a recommendation to make sure something like this doesn’t happen in the future," Sumwalt said.
At a 5 a.m. briefing Friday, Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said six people are now confirmed dead. What wasn’t clear: whether some of those dead still remain trapped in vehicles under the collapsed walkway.
"They’re using a lot of the heavy equipment," Zabaleta said. "It’s a slow process because of the unsteadiness of the structure."
Earlier in the morning police said the search and rescue had turned to a recovery — meaning police no longer believe there are any survivors.
Zabaleta said they were able to determine that most likely through crawling through the chunks of concrete and observing.
"Most likely through visual," Zabaleta said. "Our priority is to get the bodies out."
Police, who have taken the lead in the investigation, believe there are still eight vehicles trapped under the bridge. In an interview on WIOD 610 AM Friday morning, Perez said rescue workers have confirmed at least five bodies remain under the bridge, although that number could rise.
Perez also said criminal charges are possible, depending on the results of ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. State attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle is scheduled to visit the scene Friday.
Fire rescue vehicles took 10 people to Kendall Regional Medical Center on Thursday, according to the hospital’s public relations director Peter Jude.
One of the victims died at the hospital.
Kendall Regional Medical Center director Dr. Mark McKenney told ABC News the patients being treated range in age from 20 to 50 and suffered level-one trauma injuries. "One patient arrived in a coma with severe extremity injuries," McKenney said Thursday night. Eight other patients were admitted with less severe injuries such as broken bones and abrasions.
The engineers on the scene work with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, not any of the bridges contractors.
While it is still unclear whether the bridge collapse was the result of a design error or something that went wrong during construction, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that workers were conducting a stress test on the unfinished and vulnerable bridge Thursday.
Overnight, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who had just left the site of the bridge collapse —tweeted: "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."