March 19, 2018 / 7:22 AM / 9 months ago

Students return to Miami school where bridge collapse killed six

MIAMI (Reuters) - Students returned to Florida International University on Monday for their first day of classes since a newly installed pedestrian bridge collapsed last week and killed six people including a student at the school.

Federal investigators were pouring over the wreckage of the 950-ton bridge that crushed vehicles stopped at a traffic light on the eight-lane road below when it fell on Thursday in a rain of metal, concrete and debris.

All six victim have been identified, with the final one being named on Sunday. Those killed were Rolando Fraga, 60, Oswald Gonzalez, 57, Alberto Arias, 53, Alexa Duran, 18, Navaro Brown, 37, and Brandon Brownfield, 39.

“It’s traumatic to everyone because it could’ve happened to anyone, I drove under the bridge when it was up, said P.J. Hall, a 20-year-old sophomore studying international business.

Some observed a moment of silence at 1:47 p.m., when the bridge collapsed. The school was closed last week for a scheduled spring break.

“We know this will be a difficult week,” university President Mark Rosenberg said in a statement. “This tragedy hit home.”

Attorneys for a man injured in the collapse filed what they said was the first civil lawsuit seeking damages.

Marquis Hepburn, who said he was riding his motorcycle to work when the bridge collapsed, injuring him, sued bridge contractor FIGG, and four other companies working on the project in Miami-Dade County Courts, seeking financial damages.

His attorney, Matt Morgan, told reporters on a conference call that the companies building the bridge should have rerouted traffic. He declined to provide additional details about Hepburn.

Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered the state Transportation Department on Monday to halt payments of remaining federal funds to the project.

Engineers and state and university officials met hours before the pedestrian bridge collapsed, but concluded a crack in the structure was not a safety concern, the school said on Saturday.

Slideshow (4 Images)

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 bridge collapsed.

Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney

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