The death toll has risen to six as police warn more victims could be found in crushed cars after a newly-completed pedestrian bridge collapsed onto a busy highway in Florida on Friday morning (Thursday local time).
At least 10 people were taken to nearby hospitals, two in a critical condition, according to local media reports.
The victims have not been publicly identified, but at least one was a female student at Florida International University (FIU), which borders the roadway, officials told a news conference on Saturday (Friday local time).
The university bridge, designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, crushed at least eight vehicles as emergency rescuers brought in sniffer dogs to search for signs of life amid the wreckage of concrete and twisted metal.
At one stage, television news helicopters were asked to leave the area so rescuers, some positioned close to a hole at the top of the bridge, could hear any sounds of people crying for help.
Miami-Dade Police Department director Juan Perez told reporters that the death toll could rise.
“We know that there’s people missing, the family members know that there’s people missing, and what we can tell them is that we can assume that they’re in there,” Mr Perez said.
Mr Perez said reports of engineers conducting a stress test on the bridge may have led to its collapse could not be confirmed. He said it was too early to say whether criminal charges might be brought against anyone.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is in China on business, told local television station WFOR emergency crews were working to reach the vehicles trapped beneath the bridge.
“There are eight vehicles that are trapped underneath as far as we know and we are going to try and get to them as quickly as we can,” Mr Gimenez said.
The US$14.2 million ($18.2-million), 950-tonne bridge spanning 53 metres was installed Saturday (local time) in six hours over a busy eight-lane highway that divided the university’s campus from the city of Sweetwater, according to a story on the university’s website.
The bridge was intended to provide a walkway over southwest Eighth Street, one of the busiest roads in South Florida.
Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted that he had spoken with Mr Perez about the bridge collapse.
“I will be in constant communication with law enforcement throughout the day,” Mr Scott said.
“If anybody has done anything wrong, we will hold them accountable,” Governor Scott said at a press conference, after his office issued a statement saying a company contracted to inspect the bridge was not pre-qualified by the state.
The university, the second-largest in the state with 55,000 students, said in a statement it was “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge”. Most students live off-campus and the bridge was installed to make commuting to the campus safer.
“At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information.”
“We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene,” the statement read.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President Donald Trump was monitoring the situation and would offer whatever support was needed.
University of Miami student Isabella Carrasco said she had passed beneath the bridge moments before the collapse.
“We heard a loud bang behind us … and we looked back and the bridge had completely collapsed,” Ms Carrasco told CNN.
She said doctors and medical students ran to the scene from a nearby building and started giving aid to the victims.
Ms Carrasco said she saw at least five or six cars completely crushed beneath the bridge.
“Someone on the side of the road had asked a police officer if she had heard any response from the people inside the car, and she shook her head and said no,” she said.
MCM, the Miami-based construction management firm that won the bridge contract, took its website down shortly after the collapse, but an archived version of the website featured a news release touting the project, the Associated Press reported.
FIGG said in a statement it was “stunned by today’s tragic collapse”.
“In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”