Students hold vigil for Florida bridge-collapse victims

MIAMI — Hundreds of Florida International University students gathered for a vigil Wednesday morning to remember the six victims who died in a pedestrian bridge collapse near campus.

The names of the victims were displayed on a screen inside a ballroom at the Miami-area school. Loud gasps and crying could be heard from the crowd when the name of FIU student Alexa Duran appeared on the screen.

“No one will be able to understand how I feel. Alexa was my world and my life,” the student’s mother, Gina Duran, told The Associated Press. “Nothing will ever be the same.”

Mourners laid flowers and other items honoring the victims at a roadside memorial near the site where the bridge fell.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg said the school remained in deep shock over the collapse Thursday of the 950-ton (860-metric ton) structure onto a busy roadway.

“Families are shattered,” he said. “We will carry the memory of the victims. We will carry them forever.”

The bridge was intended to connect the campus with Sweetwater, a neighboring municipality.

Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez said the bridge had been cause for celebration when it was installed March 10.

“Less than a week later, the bridge meant to save lives took six lives and injured many more,” Lopez said.

Construction of the bridge was behind schedule and millions over budget, in part because of a key change in the design and placement of one of its support towers, according to documents obtained by AP through a public-records request.

The documents show the Florida Department of Transportation told FIU and its contractors in October 2016 to move one of the bridge’s main support structures 11 feet (3 meters) north to the edge of a canal, widening the gap between the crossing’s end supports and requiring some new structural design.

Videos of Thursday’s collapse show that the concrete, prefabricated segment of the bridge started crumbling on the same end of the span where the tower redesign occurred, two days after an engineer on the project reported cracks in the same location. The segment that failed had been placed atop the pylon’s footing; the taller tower section was to be installed later.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has ordered her department’s inspector general to conduct an audit of the bridge. The agency awarded millions of dollars to the project.

MIAMI, FL – MARCH 16: A pedestrian bridge is seen after it collapsed a few days after it was built over southwest 8th street allowing people to bypass the busy street to reach Florida International University on March 16, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Reports indicate that there are six fatalities as a result of the collapse. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It is still unclear if the design change contributed to the failure. But emails between the school, contractors, Sweetwater city officials and permitting agencies show a project that was behind schedule, which had officials worried that further delays could jeopardize the federal funding.

When the bridge collapsed, the project was already running about $2.6 million over its $9.4 million initial budget, cost-tracking documents from February show. Originally scheduled to be completed in July, the finish date had been pushed back to January 2019.

MIAMI, FL – MARCH 15: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department personel and other rescue units work at the scene where a pedestrian bridge collapsed a few days after it was built over southwest 8th street allowing people to bypass the busy street to reach Florida International University on March 15, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Reports indicate that there are an unknown number of fatalities as a result of the collapse, which crushed at least five cars. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Munilla Construction Management, or MCM, and FIGG Bridge Design collaborated on the bridge project. Representatives for both companies and the city of Sweetwater declined comment, pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana said Tuesday that the bridge was expected to be completed early in 2019, and its grant would run out on Sept. 30, 2019.

Multiple engineers who reviewed the documents obtained by the AP, as well as images of the collapse, said moving the tower after the bridge’s initial design invited errors. But they also said more analysis was warranted before it could be known whether this played a role in the collapse.