US & World

Miami bridge: Meeting over crack held hours before collapse

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Workers remove debris from a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami, Florida on 16 March 2018.Image copyright
Reuters

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Police say the operation has shifted from rescue to recovery.

Florida officials were told “there were no safety concerns” about a crack in a Miami university bridge, hours before it collapsed killing six people.

Florida International University said a meeting on Thursday morning involved the engineering and construction companies, as well as Florida’s transport department.

An engineer told officials it “did not compromise the structural integrity”.

The bridge fell on eight vehicles about three hours later.

In a statement, the university said the “engineer of record” from the contractor FIGG gave a technical presentation regarding the crack, in a meeting which lasted about two hours.

It comes after it emerged that Denney Pate, the lead bridge engineer, had warned of a crack in the structure two days earlier in a voicemail left with the state’s department of transport.

He also said he believed there was no concern “from a safety perspective”.

Department employees said on Friday they did not hear the message until after the bridge fell. But there was no mention of the meeting held on the morning of the collapse.

The US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and has not yet determined the cause of the collapse.

“A crack in the bridge does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe,” Robert Accetta, an NTSB investigator, told the Miami Herald.

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Media captionMiami rescue workers search for survivors

The Florida International University (FIU) concrete bridge collapsed on to a motorway, crushing at least eight vehicles driving beneath.

The number of victims is thought likely to rise as workers clear the rubble from the 862-tonne structure, which was erected days before as a walkway for university students.

On Saturday, police said the bodies of three of the victims had been recovered from two cars and taken away for identification.

One other person died earlier in hospital, and several vehicles remain under the destroyed bridge.

‘Obviously the cracking is not good’

Mr Pate attempted to call an employee on a landline at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on Tuesday.

However, the employee was away on assignment and did not hear the message until Friday.

The department has released a transcript of the message in which Mr Pate speaks of cracking at the north end of the bridge, saying “obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done”.

However, he said “from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue… although obviously the cracking is not good”.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that workers had been tightening cables supporting the bridge at the time it collapsed.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Robert Accetta said cracks in the structure did “not necessarily mean that it is unsafe”.

The bridge was put up last Saturday in just six hours, and the university hailed the “first of its kind” bridge online.

FIGG Engineering was behind the bridge project, along with Munilla Construction company (MCM), a family-owned contractor.

MCM tweeted “thoughts and prayers” for those affected by the tragedy.

Both firms said they would co-operate with investigators.

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