Florida school aware of bridge crack before fatal collapse

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MIAMI (Reuters) – Engineers and state and university officials met hours before a new pedestrian bridge collapsed in southern Florida, killing six people, but concluded a crack in the structure was not a safety concern, Florida International University said on Saturday.

The meeting on Thursday involved FIGG, which is the private contractor for the overall bridge design, the school, Florida Department of Transportation officials and Munilla Construction Management, which installed the $14.2 million bridge.

A FIGG engineer “concluded there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” the university said in a statement.

About three hours after the meeting ended, the 950-ton bridge collapsed, crushing vehicles stopped at a traffic light on the eight-lane roadway below.

Six people died, including five whose bodies were recovered on Saturday as workers pulled out vehicles from the rubble.

“We’re going to go once again and make sure that there’s nobody else down there, but we’re pretty confident that no one’s left,” Miami-Dade Police Department director Juan Perez told a press conference.

Three of the victims found on Saturday were identified by police as Rolando Fraga Hernandez, Oswald Gonzalez and Alberto Arias. The names of two others whose bodies were removed from the rubble on Saturday were not immediately released.

Another victim, who died in a hospital after the collapse, was identified by police as Navarro Brown.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the reasons for the bridge’s collapse.

News of the meeting between engineers and officials followed a revelation late Friday that the engineer overseeing the bridge, which linked the university campus with the city of Sweetwater, had called a state official two days before the collapse to report cracks.

However, the voicemail message from FIGG’s lead engineer Denney Pate, including his assertion the cracking posed no safety issue, was not retrieved until Friday, a day after the tragedy.

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