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story.lead_photo.caption Workers in Miami stand next to a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge near Florida International University on Friday. Two days before Thursday’s collapse, an engineer had left a voice mail at the state transportation agency noting cracks in the concrete.

An engineer left a voice mail two days before a catastrophic bridge failure in Miami to say some cracking had been found at one end of the concrete span, but the voice mail wasn't picked up until after the collapse, Florida Department of Transportation officials said Friday.

The voice mail left on a landline wasn't heard by a transportation agency employee until Friday because the employee was out of the office on an assignment, the agency said in an email.

In a transcript released Friday night, Denney Pate with FIGG Bridge Group says the cracking would need repairs "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."

At a news conference Friday night, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said they have just begun their investigation and cannot yet say whether any cracking contributed to the Thursday collapse, which killed at least six people. They also said workers were trying to strengthen a diagonal member on the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University when it collapsed.

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Photos by The Associated Press

Robert Accetta, the investigator-in-charge for the safety agency, said crews were applying post-tensioning force, but investigators aren't sure if that's what caused the bridge to fall.

In a news release late Friday, FIGG Bridge Engineers said it "continues to work diligently" to determine the cause of the collapse and that it is examining the steps its team has taken. It added, "The evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicated that there were no safety issues." It also asked for time to accurately determine what led to the accident.

Authorities are slowly removing the debris at the crash site, looking for more victims. Detectives declared the rubble a homicide scene.

A college student who narrowly escaped from a car that got smashed in the collapse said he watched helplessly as the structure tumbled down on top of the vehicle and killed the friend who was sitting next to him in the driver's seat.

Richie Humble, who studies at Florida International University, was riding in a car under the pedestrian bridge when he heard a long creaking noise coming from the structure that spanned a busy Miami-area highway. It sounded different from anything he had ever heard before.

"I looked up, and in an instant, the bridge was collapsing on us completely. It was too quick to do anything about it," Humble said Friday in a phone interview.

The family of the driver, Alexa Duran, has said she died. Once Humble realized he was alive, he also realized that he could not get to Duran. He called to her but got no response. A group of men outside the car started yelling at him to try crawling through the rear window.

He made his way into the back seat but couldn't squeeze through because the window was crushed. The men outside grabbed a wooden plank and pried open the rear door to pull him free, he said.

He suffered cuts on his leg from glass and a slight fracture in a vertebra, but he was able to walk away from the scene.

While families waited for word on their loved ones, investigators sought to understand why the 950-ton bridge gave way during construction. The cables supporting the span were being tightened after a "stress test" when it collapsed, authorities said.

The Department of Transportation said in its Friday release that it had not been notified of any stress test.

"This is a tragedy that we don't want to re-occur anywhere in the United States," said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade police. "We just want to find out what caused this collapse to occur and people to die."

Scheduled to open in 2019, the bridge would have provided safe passage over a canal and six lanes of traffic and created a showpiece architectural feature connecting the campus of Florida International University with the community of Sweetwater, where many students live.

The $14.2 million project was supposed to take advantage of a faster, cheaper and safer method of bridge-building promoted by the university.

Authorities have not confirmed the victims' names. One person died at a hospital, and Perez said five bodies were located with the help of cameras but had not yet been recovered.

In a Facebook post, Chelsea Brownfield said she was awaiting any information about her husband, Brandon. According to a GoFundMe page set up for the family, Brandon Brownfield was driving home from work when the collapse happened.

"The outpouring of love we have received is incredible," Chelsea Brownfield wrote. "I know you are all concerned for us. We still have not received any news or updates about Brandon Brownfield or the progress of the search [and] rescue."

The post ended with the hashtag "praying for a miracle."

The bridge was put in place March 10, five days before the collapse.

When finished, the span would have been supported from above, with a tall, off-center tower and cables attached to the walkway. That tower had not yet been installed, and it was unclear what builders were using as temporary supports.

Information for this article was contributed by Jennifer Kay, Josh Replogle, Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson, Jason Dearen, Tamara Lush and Rodrique Ngowi of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/17/2018

Print Headline: Message noted cracks before bridge's fall

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