An employee at Florida International University heard a sound like a loud “cracking whip” coming from underneath the college’s new pedestrian bridge on Thursday morning, about five hours before the 950-ton structure collapsed, flattening vehicles stopped at a red light below. Police said at least four people were killed.
Jorge Mesa, 31, who works as the content strategist for the Center for Leadership at Florida Internationa University, was stopped underneath the bridge at 8:56 a.m. while on his way to work. He was enjoying the brisk morning weather, so he turned off his music and rolled down the windows of his Mercedez Benz SUV.
“All of a sudden, I hear a crack,” Mesa said. “I see a [construction] worker; he looks up at the bridge and he gives me this face.”
The face of someone who knows something’s not quite right, Mesa thought.
Mesa didn’t learn of the collapse until just before 2 p.m., when his co-workers told him. His thoughts immediately turned to the construction worker — did he get out in time? — and those motorists stuck in the sea of rubble.
It could take days for investigators to nail down what may have caused the collapse or a timetable of Thursday’s events, and what Mesa heard may not have been a factor. He first reported his experience on the internet forum Reddit, and some commenters expressed incredulity, but Mesa said he is confident what he heard was not a normal construction-related noise.
“It could have been a coincidence,” he said. “But I’m still gonna count my blessings.”
And he’s gathering his thoughts to inform the Sweetwater Police, hoping it could help patch together a timeline of what went wrong. Police have not confirmed Mesa’s account.
Police received calls about 1:30 p.m. that the bridge — spanning six lanes across Southwest Eighth Street — came down, trapping eight vehicles and injuring at least 10 people.
The collapse came just days after crews had dropped an elevated 950-ton span in place in a project that was intended to give FIU students a safe route across the busy roadway.
The structure was hailed as an innovative “instant” bridge because of how quickly it could be constructed. It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse.
Witnesses reported that workers were on the bridge, which wasn’t expected to open to foot traffic until 2019, when it crumbled.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that crews were conducting a stress test on the bridge Thursday.
Mesa took a different route home after work Thursday, and he received almost nonstop calls and texts from family and friends wondering if he was OK. When he first saw the bridge, described as a “one of its kind” project by the university, he marveled at its majesty.
“Every morning, I pass by that bridge,” he said. “Today, from far away I was like, ‘That’s a beautiful bridge.’ Everything changed.”