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FIU: Firm had meeting to discuss crack on bridge

MIAMI — Hours before the collapse of a 950-pound concrete pedestrian bridge at Florida International University on Thursday, the engineering company for the bridge held a meeting to discuss a crack on the structure, according to a statement from the university early Saturday.

FIGG Bridge Engineers, delivered a technical presentation on the crack, and "concluded there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge," the statement said.

The construction manager on the project and representatives from the university and the state Department of Transportation attended the two-hour meeting, which was led by FIGG's lead project engineer, W. Denney Pate.

Two days earlier, Pate left a voicemail message for the DOT about "some cracking that's been observed on the north end" of the bridge, according to a recording released by the DOT on Friday. At both the meeting and in his message, Pate said the cracking did not present any safety issues.

The DOT said the message was not heard until Friday morning.

At no point during their communications, the DOT said, "did Figg or any member of the FIU design-build team ever communicate a life-safety issue."

Whether the cracking contributed to the collapse, which killed at least six people in eight vehicles, remains a key question.

Construction crews were working on a diagonal beam at the north end of the structure at or about the time of the collapse, according to information the National Transportation Safety Board provided to local members of Congress. Workers were tightening cables that ran inside the beam.

Such adjustments, which engineers call "post-tensioning," are common in concrete designs to fine-tune the structure once it is in place. In this case, however, it was not clear whether the cable-tightening was routine or an urgent undertaking in response to the discovery of the crack in the bridge.

Early Saturday, recovery crews extracted the first two crushed vehicles from under the rubble and removed one more in the evening.

As crews began removing bodies Saturday, a victim's uncle raged against what he called the "complete incompetence" that allowed people to drive beneath the unfinished concrete span.

"Why they had to build this monstrosity in the first place to get children across the street?" said an anguished Joe Smitha, whose niece, Alexa Duran, was killed. "Then they decided to stress test this bridge while traffic was running underneath it?"

Juan J. Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said at a news conference Saturday that he hoped to finish removing all the victimes in the next 12 hours.

"It's going to be a long process," he said.