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Workers ‘Chipping Away’ to Extract Cars From Debris of Florida Bridge

Florida officials say two cars and three victims have been removed from the wreckage of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed Thursday over a busy highway, killing at least six people and flattening at least a half-dozen cars below.

At a news conference Saturday, Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez said emergency workers were “chipping away” at the piles of debris at the site of the bridge, which was still under construction when it fell.

“It’s going to be a long process,” Perez said. “We’ve been saying that from the beginning because of the amount of weight and the size of the structure that is lying on top of these vehicles.”

He said some of the wreckage was unstable, so workers were trying “anything that comes up” to chip away and get to the six other cars believed to be trapped underneath, and any victims found inside them. At least one person escaped from one of the cars trapped under the bridge.

​Survivor’s account

Authorities have not released the names of the victims. Relatives of Alexa Duran, a freshman at Florida International University, released her name themselves. A friend riding with her, who escaped, said Duran died in the driver’s seat of her car.

Officials warned that the death toll was likely to rise as emergency workers continued to try to extract the trapped vehicles. Perez said authorities might need DNA evidence, fingerprints or family photos to identify victims. One news report said some vehicles were damaged so completely that they were difficult to recognize.

The bridge, which was set to open next year, spanned eight lanes of traffic and a canal to give FIU students an easy way to cross to the community of Sweetwater, where many of them live. A student was struck by a vehicle and killed last year while walking across the highway.

On Friday, news emerged that the lead engineer on the bridge construction project left a voicemail for a state official Wednesday warning of “some cracking” in the structure. 

The Florida Department of Transportation said the voicemail was not retrieved until Friday because the state transportation official to whom the message was directed was out of the office on assignment.

​Not seen as unsafe

According to a transcript of the call, the engineer with the private contractor FIGG Bridge Group said he did not consider the cracking on the bridge a safety issue.

Denney Pate said 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.”

Perez, the police director, acknowledged a homicide investigation was under way but described as premature reports that criminal charges were imminent.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We just want to get to the bottom … of what occurred so that we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation and so that this doesn’t happen again.”

“We want to express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of those who have been affected,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a video released Friday.

In what is called Accelerated Bridge Construction, the final 950-ton section that completed the bridge was assembled at a site along the highway. It was placed on a special truck, moved and put in place in just six hours last Saturday to avoid disrupting traffic.

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International Presence at West Point Benefits Both Foreign and American Cadets

In June 2017, Montenegro, once considered a Balkan stronghold of pro-Russian sentiments, quietly celebrated its entry into NATO, infuriating the Kremlin. Before joining NATO, Montenegro sent its first cadet to West Point. Nevena Nikolic and her international peers at West Point are getting an opportunity to see the world and America through the lens of its prestigious military academy, where officials believe having foreign cadets is crucial. Milena Djurdjic of VOA’s Serbian Service has more.

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Under Pompeo Analysts Expect More Reliance on US Military Strength

Following Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing as secretary of state Tuesday, many around the world are turning their attention to President Donald Trump’s designee to take his place: CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Whether it be Iran, North Korea or Russia, analysts say Pompeo’s views are more in sync with Trump’s than Tillerson’s were, and — like the president — Pompeo favors U.S. military strength over the “soft power” of diplomacy. VOA Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more.

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Attorney for Porn Star Says She Faced Physical Threats

An attorney for a porn actress who allegedly had an affair with President Donald Trump says she was threatened with physical harm.

Michael Avenatti tells MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Stormy Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — wants to “tell her story” of the affair with Trump before he became president.

Asked if Daniels was physically threatened, Avenatti said “yes,” but did not provide details.

Avenatti said that more detail would be revealed in an interview taped with CBS’ News “60 Minutes.” He says: “There’s the act and the cover-up and the American people are going to learn about both in the interview and beyond.”

The actress wants to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement under which she was paid $130,000 not to give details of her encounters with Trump.

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Hawaii Releases Redacted Recording of Missile Alert Drill

The state of Hawaii is releasing an audio recording of the drill it was running in January when an employee mistakenly sent cellphone and broadcast alerts warning of a ballistic missile attack.

But the 24-second recording the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency released Thursday is heavily redacted.

It starts with the words “exercise, exercise, exercise,” followed by a prolonged beep, then the phrase “this is not a drill” and another prolonged beep. It ends with “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

Spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Anthony says the redactions are necessary because the Pacific Command would use the same language if it notified the agency of an actual missile threat.

Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest Executive Director Brian Black says it’s troubling that the agency is only releasing portions that support their narrative of what happened.

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Indian Hospital: Hillary Clinton Treated for Minor Injury

The head of an Indian hospital says Hillary Clinton was briefly treated there after suffering a minor injury at her hotel.


Suresh Goyal, the CEO of Goyal Hospital in the city of Jodhpur, says she arrived in the hospital early Wednesday and “was here for about 15-20 minutes.”


He declined to say what she was treated for. An employee of Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, says Clinton had stayed there and had sprained her wrist. He said, however, that she was not injured at that hotel.


A widely shared video shot earlier this week showed her tripping on the steps of a palace in central India.

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US Sanctions Russians for Election Meddling, Joins Condemnation of Nerve Agent Attack

The Trump administration is joining harsh international condemnation of Russia for a nerve agent attack in Britain blamed on Moscow, while for the first time imposing fresh sanctions — directly blaming Russia for election interference.

Asked by a reporter Thursday about the the poison attack targeting a former double agent in Salisbury, President Donald Trump replied, “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”

He described the March 4 attempted assassination of the ex-spy as a “very sad situation.” He said the U.S. was taking the matter “very seriously, as I think are many others.”

Trump had appeared reluctant previously to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin or to take strong action against Russia.

The president has repeatedly declared there was no collusion between his election campaign and Russia and that U.S. investigations into such allegations are a “witch hunt.”

On Thursday, the U.S. government joined those of Britain, France and Germany in backing London’s conclusion holding Russia responsible for the nerve agent attack. The joint statement says “there is no plausible alternative explanation” and “Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility.”


The statement was issued shortly before Washington announced the blacklisting of five entities and 19 individuals for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other malicious cyberattacks, including on America’s energy grid.

Among those targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions are two Russian intelligence agencies, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), as well as 13 Russians already indicted by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s more of the pressure we need to put on Russia. We’ve got to figure out some way to curtail their malign activities, whether it’s cyber or otherwise,” Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, told VOA.

Action ‘way overdue’

A Democratic senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, agreed with Tillis and said Thursday’s action was “way overdue,” accusing Trump administration members of going out “of their way to ignore all the attacks that Russia has made on us. Our intelligence services have been very clear. They tried to alter our elections and there is no question they’ll try it again.”

Leahy also told VOA that the administration’s response remained unsatisfactory, “but even a little bit is better than nothing.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended the administration’s response.

In a statement, Mnuchin said the administration “is confronting and countering malign Russian cyberactivity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyberattacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure. These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”

The Treasury Department’s action blocks the 19 sanctioned individuals and five entities from doing any business in the U.S., while saying that Americans “are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”

‘Ongoing’ attacks

Russian cyberattacks on critical U.S. industrial and other infrastructure are “long term and still ongoing,” a national security official told reporters on Thursday.

Another national security official, also speaking on condition of not being identified, singled out the FSB, saying it was targeting U.S. government cybersecurity specialists, diplomats, military and other personnel.

Treasury’s statement blamed Russia for interference in the 2016 U.S. election and destructive cyberattacks, including the June 2017 NotPetya incident, which it characterized as “the most destructive and costly cyberattack in history.” The U.S. said that attack disrupted global shipping, trade and the production of medicines, and prevented the creation of electronic records at several U.S. hospitals for more than a week.

Trump’s choice to lead the National Security Agency, the lead U.S. electronic spy agency, also expressed concern about Russia’s cyberactivity during his confirmation hearing on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Unless the calculus changes, we should expect continued issues,” said Army Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone, who has also been nominated to head the U.S. military’s Cyber Command.

VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill and Jeff Seldin in Washington contributed to this report.

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