Rescue teams continued the desperate search for survivors after a pedestrian bridge collapsed in Florida, as the first victim was named as Alexa Duran.
At least six people were killed when the structure collapsed crushing cars on the road below. Another 10 were injured.
Orlando Duran said his daughter Alexa was among the dead. The 18-year-old student at Florida International University was described by her friends as "an awesome person".
"My little girl was trapped in the car and couldn’t get out. She died when the bridge collapsed on top of her car," Mr Duran told el Nuevo Herald newspaper from London. "This is going to be the longest and saddest trip of my life. I don’t want to return."
Rescuers worked through the night to try and free any remaining survivors from the rubble, as state and federal investigators arrived at the scene seeking to determine the cause of the tragedy.
Alpha Xi Delta is mourning the loss of our Sister Alexa Duran, 18, who passed away as a result of the pedestrian bridge collapse on FIU’s campus. Alpha Xi Delta sends our deepest condolences to Alexa’s family and friends and our Sisters at Florida International University.— Alpha Xi Delta (@alphaxidelta) March 16, 2018
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) said Friday night that they had received a voicemail days before the collapse about possible cracks in the bridge. Lead engineer on the project, Denney Pate, left a message saying he had seen cracking on the north end of the span. The message was not received until Friday, the day after the bridge collapsed.
“The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design-build team,” the transportation department said in a statement. “At no point during any of the communications above did Figg or any member of the FIU. design-build team ever communicate a life-safety issue.”
It was unclear whether the cracking played a role in the bridge collapse.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that the bridge – which had only been up for five days and was not due to open to the public until 2019 – had undergone stress testing the day before it imploded.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio added that the cables suspending the bridge had loosened but were being tightened “when it collapsed”.
National Transportation Security Board officials confirmed as much in a press conference, but could not say for certain whether the tightening was the cause of the collapse. A team of 15 has been brought in to investigate.
They said they were also looking into why pedestrians were allowed under the bridge when it was still under construction.
"We want to look at how the contractors identified risk and mitigated those risks associated with the construction of this bridge," one official said. "We want to understand what those decisions were and why they were made."
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez told a news conference that it had not yet been officially determined that a “stress test” had taken place. He referred all questions about the cables to the office of Mr Rubio.
Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp added that he could not confirm that a stress test was taking place at the time of the incident. Officials also could not say if any safety protocols had been ignored because the road beneath the bridge was allowed to remain open while workers were on the walkway.
Mr Perez urged for people not to jump to conclusions.“This is a tragedy that we don’t want to re-occur anywhere in the United States,” he said. “We just want to find out what caused this collapse to occur and people to die.”
Mr Perez did say that the number of deaths could rise, with the potential for more bodies to be found as the mass of concrete is removed. Eight cars were trapped under the rubble, but Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department said that “there’s the sad possibility that under the concrete there may be additional vehicles.”
The focus shifted from search and rescue, to recovery and investigation with NTSB and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials joining police and FBI agents to take command of the scene.
They replaced first responders, who had spent hours racing to find survivors in the rubble of the 175-foot span using high-tech listening devices, trained sniffing dogs and search cameras.
Tearful relatives congregated near the scene waiting for news. Jorge and Carol Fraga drove from West Palm Beach, fearing their relative's car was trapped beneath the bridge at Florida International University. Sixty-year-old Rolando Fraga, Jorge's uncle, lives in the area and frequently takes the nearby turnpike to work, but no one has heard from him since mid-day Thursday.
“The waiting is so ... I don't have words for that,” Carol Fraga said.
The multi-million structure was intended as a safe way to cross six lanes of traffic between the Florida International University (FIU) campus and the community of Sweetwater, where many students live. At least one of the victims has been confirmed as a FIU student, but no victims have yet been named.
Mr Rubio, who is an adjunct professor at the university, noted the pedestrian bridge was intended to be an innovative and “one-of-a-kind engineering design”.
When finished, the bridge would have been supported from above, with a tall tower and cables attached to the walkway. That tower had not yet been installed, and it was unclear what builders have been using as temporary supports.
The project was a collaboration between MCM Construction, a Miami-based contractor, and Figg Bridge Design, based in Tallahassee. Both companies have expressed their condolences for the victims and said they would cooperate with all investigations.
Florida Governor Rick Scott had said that investigators will get to the bottom of “why this happened and what happened,” and if anyone did anything wrong, “we will hold them accountable.”