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Pedestrian Bridge Collapses in Miami. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:03]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: And we got word from Miami-Dade Fire tactical response team that they're doing right now is trying to secure the structure as they continue to search for potential patients.

Again, this is per the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and their Twitter account. They just provided that additional information. Thank you again so much, Isabella, for joining us.

ISABELLA CARRASCO, BRIDGE COLLAPSE WITNESS: Thank you.

CABRERA: Our hearts go out to all of you there in Florida, especially in that area.

And now I want to turn to our Rene Marsh, who is joining us with some additional information as far as the investigation goes.

Rene, what can you tell us?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So, the big question is, at least from here in Washington, is the NTSB and will they launch?

I just got off the phone with them. They certainly are monitoring all the video and the information that is slowly coming in. So, they're aware of this incident at this point. They working the phones, literally, to speak to the folks there on the ground in Miami to determine if they will officially launch to investigate exactly what caused this bridge to collapse, again, this bridge installed just on Saturday.

This is certainly in the jurisdiction of the NTSB. Just a reminder, when that bridge collapsed in Minnesota, they launched to investigate that. If they do make the determination that this is something that they will investigate, there will be a number of issues that they will be delving into, specifically, obviously, the structure of this bridge, how it was constructed, how it was built, and were there any faulty parts?

Could it -- was it built in such a way to handle whatever the load factor was on this bridge, all questions that investigators will go in with? But, again, at this hour, obviously, this is all unfolding right now.

So, a determination as far as whether they will launch has not been reached yet because they are actually working to figure that all out in real time as I speak to you. But it certainly is a possibility this would fall in their purview as far as the NTSB goes.

CABRERA: OK, thank you, Rene Marsh. Stand by.

I want to welcome in our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. We are now in the 3:00 hour and continuing to follow this breaking news story, a tragedy on the campus of Florida International University. That's in Florida -- in Miami, Florida.

And you can see this pedestrian bridge that has collapsed, crushing at least five or six cars underneath, according to local officials there. And there are multiple fatalities. Officials right now working to secure the bridge, as well as trying to get to any patients and those who may still be trapped underneath and needing help.

I want to bring in our producer, Devon Sayers, who has just arrived on the scene, again, of this bridge collapse in Miami.

Devon, walk us through what you're learning and what you're seeing.

DEVON SAYERS, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, Ana, we're just here on the west -- far west part of Miami on the FIU campus, 40,000 students.

A number of your guests have already said it's quite fortunate that the school was in break. I'm on the west side of the Bridge on 8th Street, a major thoroughfare, three lanes divided road here.

The span of bridge that you're seeing has fully collapsed. On the one side, I see some rebar sticking out of the white bridge. And first- responders continue to arrive here. A bit of ominous sign that we have seen some earth-moving equipment coming in as well, heavy construction equipment, possibly signifying a longer rescue.

What may disturb me the most is what I'm seeing showing up now are lighting equipment, which may signify that this may be a long-term rescue-and-recovery operation.

CABRERA: No doubt about it. We're still trying to work to figure out when this bridge exactly came down and what may be the cause. Of course, that investigation is barely getting started, the focus being on saving any potential patients who may be trapped there in the rubble.

We're also hearing now from the governor's office that he is planning to travel to Florida International University this evening to be briefed by the local law enforcement and university officials on the collapse of this bridge.

The mayor of this area, from Miami-Dade, he is actually in China right now. We just got word he, too, has been briefed on what is happening and what is getting to be a probably lengthy investigation.

I want to bring in Andy Herrmann, who can help us understand what happened, perhaps. He is a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Andy, a lot we don't know. But what we do know is that this bridge was new. In fact, we heard from a student that it, perhaps, hadn't even opened yet, was meant to be a pedestrian crossing to connect one neighborhood with the campus and allow people to safely cross what is a very busy avenue, 8th Avenue there.

This was a rapid construction process. They designed the majority of the bridge and then hoisted it up in one day's time and put it on some pillars. What do you make of what you're seeing right now?

[15:05:00]

ANDY HERRMANN, FORMER PRESIDENT, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: I'm watching -- well, thank you for having me on.

I'm watching CNN right now. I see the bridge on the roadway and what you're saying is it sounded like they were using ABC, or accelerated bridge construction, which is a technique that's been developed over the last number of years, to have less disruption to traffic while they're building a bridge.

What they try to do is do most of the construction off-site or very near to the site. And that way, as it gets completed, they can just do minimal time to lift it up and over the existing roadway or waterway that they're dealing with to minimize traffic construction.

I see a large crane there. I think I heard on one of the earlier reports that it was just lifted into place on Saturday. So, not knowing what's going on with either the construction techniques or the engineering design, that will all have to be looked at in the coming days and weeks.

CABRERA: I want to show viewers some video of this bridge before the collapse video.

This video on the right side of the screen was taken just days ago. We see it. It was nighttime, obviously, the pictures from "The Miami Herald." And you see part of the process of them installing this bridge, you described a rapid installation, accelerated. I can't recall the phrase that you used.

But is this a common practice in order to, like you said, minimize the impact to traffic in that area?

HERRMANN: Accelerated bridge construction, or ABC construction, has been used quite extensively across the United States. And it's to minimize disruption to traffic while they're because overhead.

It's been used a lot across the country.

CABRERA: What would be your first question in embarking on an investigation into what may have went wrong?

HERRMANN: The first question would be to look at what is going on -- what went on in the construction. Was the bridge properly shored and braced as they put it into place

and as they released the crane? That would be the first thing to look at in terms of the construction.

But you would also have to go back and look at the design and make sure they looked at the intermediate steps and the stresses that were in the bridge during the erection.

CABRERA: And in terms of the inspection process, I imagine that there are a lot of checks and balances along the way in making sure that the safety and the integrity of the bridge is just right before it is opened to the public. What is the inspection process like?

HERRMANN: Generally, they have a lot of bridge inspectors on the site to review the construction techniques, make sure they're putting it together in the right sequence. They also have what they call shop drawings and shop procedures, where they look step by step the procedures to build the bridge in the pieces and then put it together and then eventually erect it up in place.

CABRERA: When I look at the picture on the left of this bridge that has collapsed, it looks like it is largely still intact, although you do see a few places where there was some buckling.

Our understanding was this was a 950-ton span that was one big chunk that initially, when it was installed, it was picked up, moved and then simply lowered into place by some of the cranes when they put this in on Saturday. Apparently, the design is such that it isn't meant to break into pieces when something like this happens?

HERRMANN: No, no. It's interesting, because as they build the bridge, they not only have to take into account the final location and the final supports that hold it up, but also the temporary supports, because the bridge is in a different loading condition as they're erecting the bridge.

There's a number of things that have to be looked at, the initial erection as they're moving it into place and then the final design conditions.

CABRERA: And would you be concerned about the structural integrity now as first-responders are trying to get to people who are trapped underneath? What do you see as the biggest challenges from them to be able to make sure they don't cause more harm in the process of trying to save people?

HERRMANN: It's a very delicate operation. And I'm sure they have experts there who -- as someone said earlier, it's similar to an earthquake damage.

And they have to make sure that when they're lifting individual pieces of the bridge, that they maintain the integrity so it doesn't crumble and further hurt anyone who is underneath it.

CABRERA: How has construction technology changed over the years on a bridge like this, out of curiosity? HERRMANN: In the past, they may have erected it in place with

multiple shorings going across the roadway underneath, but that disrupts traffic and causes a lot of detours.

So, the ABC, the accelerated bridge construction, is a method that can minimize some of the disruption to the traffic underneath. So, that's been an advance. I believe it started out in Utah. The departments of transportation used it out there. And it's been advocated across the country as a better way to do construction in terms of minimizing disruption to traffic.

[15:10:20]

CABRERA: Well, Andy Herrmann, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, thank you very much for your time and your expertise in helping to shed some light on what may have gone wrong here, again, in Miami, Florida, where this pedestrian bridge collapsed, trapping people underneath, crushing several cars, and killing multiple people, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

We are going to take a quick break. Much more when we come back. We will be talking with some additional witnesses from the scene.

You're here on CNN. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: You're watching CNN, following breaking news on this day, a sad day in Miami, Florida, right now.

[15:15:00]

Several people are dead after this bridge came crumbling down, collapsing on a busy avenue on the campus of Florida International University. The local officials are telling us several people are dead and multiple cars are crushed right now underneath that bridge.

First-responders are on scene currently working to secure the rest of that bridge, that structure, as they try to respond to the patients who may be trapped underneath.

Joining us right now is a witness, somebody who saw this bridge collapse, Lynell Collins.

Thank you so much, Lynell, for joining us.

First, I can only imagine how you're feeling and what you're thinking right now. I appreciate you taking a moment to go through what you saw with us.

Tell me about what you saw and what you can share.

LYNELL COLLINS, BRIDGE COLLAPSE WITNESS: Thank you. I am pretty shaken.

I was really just about to make a right turn a few seconds just before the bridge, and the whole thing really just came down. And then, after the whole thing broke, I was freaking out.

But I got out of my car, and me and a few other people, we were sprinting over there. And we started helping a few other people whose cars were at least half crushed and whoever was easily saved.

But we couldn't really go under any of the rubble because, at the time, the bridge -- the other half of the bridge is still kind of leaning upward right now. That was also looking like it was about to slip and fall off.

Somebody we helped said his family was still inside, and we couldn't really get them out. And -- and -- I'm sorry. I'm still kind of shaken right now. But--

CABRERA: No, it's understandable. Take a deep breath.

What you describe sounds frightening.

COLLINS: It was.

CABRERA: You talked about seeing people underneath and trying to help get people out who were trapped.

Do you have any idea just how many people were in this area and were impacted by this bridge collapse?

COLLINS: No.

It was a lot more than I thought it was. At first, when I first saw the bridge come down, I only saw two cars. I was on the left side, east side of the bridge. But after I ran over there, I saw two trucks actually completely crushed. And then there were a few in the back on the other side of the bridge that I couldn't or we couldn't get to it.

Some other people had to help. But we only had access to the two on the front.

CABRERA: OK.

When you saw the bridge come down, obviously a big question is exactly what was the impetus, what made it collapse? Did you see anything that would give you a clue as to what brought it down? Was there an accident, for example? Did somebody run into the side of the bridge, or any idea?

COLLINS: No. I have no clue.

It really was just like another day. I drove under this bridge several times already, and just out of nowhere, it came down. I haven't the slightest idea.

CABRERA: Lynell, what more could you tell us about the bridge? I understand it was just installed a few days ago.

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, some of the people saw, and they -- everybody kind of talking

about it thought maybe it just came up a bit too fast, and it was too agile, and maybe they should have took some more time.

I really don't know much about building bridges. But I can say for sure that the construction workers around it were looking extremely upset about the fact that the bridge came down. And they were pissed. They were pissed that the bridge came down, because looked they were already counting their losses.

CABRERA: So, this was still an active construction scene, is what you're telling me?

COLLINS: Yes, it was. It was. Nobody was -- nobody walked across that bridge.

CABRERA: So, are you a student on the campus?

COLLINS: No. No, I'm not a student.

CABRERA: I understand that this is a very busy avenue. That was one of the reasons for installing this bridge, to make it easy access for pedestrians to be able to connect their community to the campus.

There are thousands of students, I'm told, who live in the Sweetwater community who go to Florida International University. Is this a road that you travel frequently? And describe for me this area.

COLLINS: Yes.

I do travel it frequently. Really, I mean, I guess maybe the bridge was just built too fast. I'm not sure. But I still think the bridge is a great idea, because crossing the street here, something is always going on. There's always people speeding over here.

[15:20:03]

And the bridge, I actually thought would be safe for crossing the street, because, in all seriousness, I'm always scared when I'm crossing the street here.

CABRERA: Well, Lynell Collins, we wish you the very best. Thank you for spending time with us.

COLLINS: Thank you. Have a good day.

CABRERA: You, too.

Now let's bring in Jonathan Munoz. He's another person who witnessed the bridge collapse.

Jonathan, are you there?

JONATHAN MUNOZ, BRIDGE COLLAPSE WITNESS: Yes, I'm here.

CABRERA: Thank you for joining us. What did you see? What did you hear?

MUNOZ: So, I was under the bridge maybe 30 seconds to a minute before it collapsed. Me and my girlfriend were coming on to campus, so that I could speak to a professor.

And we took a right turn on 109th Avenue, right turn being under the bridge. And I turned into the parking garage that borders the bridge. And as I was driving around looking for parking, we both heard a large bang, and we thought that I had hit something, so I parked. And I looked around the car and I realized that I didn't hit anything.

So, I started to walk to campus. She stayed in the car. And as I started to walk to campus, I heard people screaming. And I saw police cars, campus police cars leaving from the first floor of the parking garage next door.

That's where the campus police department is. And I saw them going toward the intersection. And at this point, I couldn't see the bridge. So, I thought that it was a car accident. Like you probably know, that intersection is very busy.

And there's been many car accidents. There's been fatalities from students being struck. That's why they built the bridge. And I thought it was a car accident. I was nowhere near the bridge. I was already walking to campus.

And my girlfriend called me and said, something is going on. I see the cops. I'm going to go see what's up. So, she walked over, and maybe 20 seconds later, she called me almost crying, saying, Jonathan, the bridge collapsed.

And, at that point, I was just walking into my professor's office and I told him, you know, the bridge collapsed. We have got to -- like, let's go. So, we both started running over to the intersection. And at that point, there were cops securing the intersection. EMS just started to arrive.

There was a construction worker who was obviously hurt. He was bleeding from the mouth in front of me. I don't know how close he was to the bridge when it came down, but he was obviously hurt. There were, I think, doctors from the medical school on campus who came over, you know, in their white coats and they were talking to police officers, and they immediately ran up to the scene to try to figure out who they could immediately get to.

There was police around the rubble. There was construction workers walking around. It was a chaotic scene. Nobody knew exactly what to do. Again, I was there maybe three minutes after it happened.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Right. And when was that? What time of day was that?

MUNOZ: Oh, let's see, maybe 1:45, 1:50, probably around 1:50. It was just chaotic. I saw-- CABRERA: Right.

MUNOZ: -- one woman who was a nurse, she was in her scrubs, who was sitting on the sidewalk near the bridge. I think she was in one of the cars that was struck. Police officers carried her off the scene.

At that point, EMS started to arrive. And they secured the construction worker who was hurt, put him on a stretcher and took him away. We could hear more ambulances coming. By that time, the helicopters were already in the air. It was just a chaotic scene.

CABRERA: Wow, Jonathan, you witnessed so much. I imagine you're still trying to just process what you have experienced.

Right now, we're looking at a couple of different images, one obviously an aerial overview head -- overhead shot of that scene where we see just a plethora of emergency crews and personnel on scene.

Last check, they were still working to secure the rest of that bridge, and then working to help those patients who may be injured, again, several people now confirmed dead with multiple cars still crushed underneath.

And then you see from ground level on the right side of your screen additional shots. So, there is an all-hands-on-deck approach.

And now we're hearing from the bridge construction company, MCM, that just tweeted this: "Our family's thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the terrible tragedy. The new University City bridge which was under construction experienced a catastrophic collapse, causing injuries and loss of life. MCM is a family business, and we're all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way."

We are going to take a quick break here on CNN, as we continue to follow this breaking news right now out of Miami, Florida, on the campus of Florida International University, where a pedestrian bridge just recently installed collapsed on a busy avenue, with multiple people trapped underneath and multiple people already confirmed dead.

[15:25:13]

Stay with us. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- another country. And I can't -- I can't release that. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: You keep backing away.

So, tell me what it is you know of what happened. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was crossing the street at -- at the moment that the bridge was coming down. And I don't know if he was -- I -- I -- I don't know really. He was just severely injured.

QUESTION: And you got a phone call from who, his sister?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His sister.

QUESTION: And was she here, too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. He just -- she just called me, saying that he was injured and he was rushed to the hospital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: That's sound from a witness near the scene