Sixth and final victim recovered from Miami bridge collapse: 'It's heart wrenching'

Crushed cars are shown under a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge, Friday, March 16, 2018 near Florida International University in the Miami area. The new pedestrian bridge that was under construction collapsed onto a busy Miami highway Thursday afternoon, crushing vehicles beneath massive slabs of concrete and steel, killing and injuring several people, authorities said.

The sixth and final victim was pulled from the rubble of a collapsed Miami bridge Saturday, bringing an end to the around-the-clock effort to recover those who remained trapped for more than two days. 

A total of eight cars were partially trapped when the 950-ton pedestrian bridge buckled at Florida International University on Thursday, and at least four were completely pancaked under the massive slabs of concrete, which made recovering victims difficult.

"It was very difficult," Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said during an emotional Saturday news conference, adding that while the bridge was heavy, the biggest weight removed by crews was "the tonnage that was being carried by the families, the parents, the husbands, the wives of the people that were underneath there." 

He said while the process to free those trapped was tedious, he hoped recovering the victims gave families a sense of closure, even though a number of investigations into what went wrong would take months to complete. 

Perez said that while officials believe the death toll will stay at six, crews plan to scour the rubble again to make sure no additional victims are buried. 

Heartbreaking photos and footage of the removal shows officials pulling vehicles from under what used to the bridge. The vehicles were nearly unrecognizable as roofs appeared caved in. 

The only portions of the vehicles that appeared intact were the tires and front grills. 

Officials cut portions of the bridge to make it easier to lift the concrete. The vehicles were covered as they were pulled out, then a crane was used to haul them to the medical-examiner's office.

That's where those inside were extracted. 

As officials pulled the vehicles from the concrete rubble and entanglement of thick metal wire, crews held a moment of silence to honor the victims inside. 

"They didn't stop," Perez said of the crews who scoured the rubble for days. "The only pause from the rescuers was when we asked them to pause so that we could pray over every victim."

Police identified four of the victims Saturday as Rolando Fraga Hernandez, Oswald Gonzalez, 57, Alberto Arias, 53, and Navarro Brown. Three of the victims were pulled from vehicles. The fourth died at a hospital after the accident. 

Officials say the two additional victims are expected to be identified soon.  

Florida International University's President, Mark Rosenberg, sent a message to the school Saturday that called for a moment of silence on Monday at 1:47 p.m .— the same time the bridge collapsed on Thursday. 

He also said the school was cooperating with the investigations into what went wrong. His message came as more information and questions arose about the condition of the bridge before its collapse. 

The university said that two hours before the bridge fell, a meeting was held to discuss a crack in the walkway. Engineers concluded there were no safety concerns. 

State officials were also alerted to the crack two days before the bridge crumpled. An engineer for FIGG Bridge Group, the firm that designed the walkway, left a voicemail for officials at the Florida Department of Transportation about the cracking.

More:'Cracking is not good': Engineer called to report bridge flaws before Florida collapse

More:Miami bridge collapsed as cables were being tightened following 'stress test'

More:Miami bridge collapse rescuers recall chaotic first minutes: 'We need help!'

“We’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that,” the engineer said, according to a transcript provided by state officials. 

The transportation department said officials did not hear the message until Friday, a day after the accident. 

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading an investigation into the accident, was able to determine that workers were tightening two wires that held the bridge in place at the time of the collapse.

But officials say they still need to know much more before coming to a conclusion about what happened and why.

It's still unclear why cars were allowed to travel under the bridge when the wire-tightening was ongoing and after a crack was discovered.