The tragedy surrounding a fatal bridge collapse near Florida International University in Miami this week was compounded by the news that an engineer who worked on the recently installed structure contacted officials two days earlier with concerns about cracks that could compromise its integrity.
As The New York Times reported, a Florida Department of Transportation employee received a voice message from the man in charge of designing the pedestrian bridge.
That employee was reportedly out of the office until Friday, however, and did not hear the message until after the collapse that left at least six people dead.
According to the voice on the message released publicly later in the day, “obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done” to the bridge, though “from a safety perspective” the issue was not deemed a concern.
“Although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, you know, done to repair that,” the engineer said.
In a statement accompanying news of the engineer’s lost warning, FDOT officials asserted that “the responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them” falls on the “design-build team” commissioned by the university.
For its part, the firm behind the bridge’s design expressed its sympathy and a commitment to determining what went wrong.
Figg Bridge Engineers said it was “heartbroken” over the tragedy, adding that it continues to review “the steps that our team has taken in the interest of our overarching concern for public safety.”
Urging for patience as the proper authorities investigate the collapse “in order to accurately identify what factors led to the accident during construction,” the company defended its initial assessment dismissing concerns about the safety of individuals near the structure.
“The evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicate that there were no safety issues,” the company said.
It is still unclear whether those observed cracks actually played any role in the bridge’s ultimate failure.
The National Transportation Safety Board, one agency investigating the collapse, indicated that it has not independently verified the existence of those cracks.
NTSB official Robert Accetta added that even if they were present, that alone would not automatically doom a structure.
“A crack in a bridge does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe,” he said.
The board is also taking a close look at reports of workers who were tightening cables on the bridge at the time of the collapse, though Accetta explained that such work is also not all that suspicious in the days after a construction of that type.
In addition to at least six confirmed deaths, another 10 victims were transported from the scene to area hospitals.
Officials worked to clear the area throughout the day Friday, announcing that their effort to look for additional survivors had concluded.
Authorities confirmed they expected to retrieve two additional bodies from the rubble as they continued to work at the scene Saturday.
Eight cars were reportedly trapped beneath the collapsed bridge, which is believed to have created more than 950 tons of debris for workers to clear in the coming days.
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