Florida officials say two cars and three victims have been removed from the wreckage of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed Thursday over a busy highway, killing at least six people and flattening at least a half-dozen cars below.
At a news conference Saturday, Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez said emergency workers were "chipping away" at the piles of debris at the site of the bridge, which was still under construction when it fell.
"It's going to be a long process," Perez said. "We've been saying that from the beginning because of the amount of weight and the size of the structure that is lying on top of these vehicles."
He said some of the wreckage was unstable, so workers were trying "anything that comes up" to chip away and get to the six other cars believed to be trapped underneath, and any victims found inside them. At least one person escaped from one of the cars trapped under the bridge.
Authorities have not released the names of the victims. Relatives of Alexa Duran, a freshman at Florida International University, released her name themselves. A friend riding with her, who escaped, said Duran died in the driver's seat of her car.
Officials warned that the death toll was likely to rise as emergency workers continued to try to extract the trapped vehicles. Perez said authorities might need DNA evidence, fingerprints or family photos to identify victims. One news report said some vehicles were damaged so completely that they were difficult to recognize.
The bridge, which was set to open next year, spanned eight lanes of traffic and a canal to give FIU students an easy way to cross to the community of Sweetwater, where many of them live. A student was struck by a vehicle and killed last year while walking across the highway.
On Friday, news emerged that the lead engineer on the bridge construction project left a voicemail for a state official Wednesday warning of "some cracking" in the structure.
The Florida Department of Transportation said the voicemail was not retrieved until Friday because the state transportation official to whom the message was directed was out of the office on assignment.
Not seen as unsafe
According to a transcript of the call, the engineer with the private contractor FIGG Bridge Group said he did not consider the cracking on the bridge a safety issue.
Denney Pate said the cracking would need repairs, "but from a safety perspective we don't see that there's any issue there so we're not concerned about it from that perspective."
Perez, the police director, acknowledged a homicide investigation was under way but described as premature reports that criminal charges were imminent.
"We're not there yet," he said. "We just want to get to the bottom ... of what occurred so that we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation and so that this doesn't happen again."
"We want to express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of those who have been affected," FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a video released Friday.
In what is called Accelerated Bridge Construction, the final 950-ton section that completed the bridge was assembled at a site along the highway. It was placed on a special truck, moved and put in place in just six hours last Saturday to avoid disrupting traffic.