Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a 12-month state of emergency in the Liguria region in response to the motorway bridge collapse in Genoa. He also said he would make €5m ($5.7m) available from central funds. The regional government had requested the action following Tuesday’s collapse, which left 39 people dead.
There has been anger and disbelief in Italy that such a vital structure could have simply given way. Rescuers have said there is little hope of finding more survivors underneath the Morandi bridge, where almost 40 vehicles fell 45m (148ft) in Tuesday’s collapse.
The cause is not yet known but there have been calls for the heads of the company operating the bridge to resign.
Survivors have also been recalling the horror of the bridge’s collapse. Hundreds of firefighters worked overnight and into Wednesday with lifting gear, climbing equipment and sniffer dogs to try to locate more survivors. But an Italian Red Cross spokeswoman told the BBC’s Tim Willcox that only bodies had been found.
The local prefecture raised the death toll on Wednesday morning to 39, 37 of them identified. At least three children lost their lives.
The city’s authorities have declared two days of mourning. There are 16 people being treated in hospital, 12 of them in a serious condition. Some 440 people were evacuated from the area. Residents of housing blocks under one pillar were ready to move back, but were then told it was cracking and their homes were at risk.
The Morandi bridge, built in the 1960s, stands on the A10 toll motorway, an important conduit for goods traffic from local ports which also serves the Italian Riviera and south-east coast of France. Families in their cars, people going to work, people going on holiday. It could take many more hours to find out exactly how many people died and identify them.
Counsellors are on hand at emergency centres to help relatives. Some of the names of the victims have been appearing in Italian media.
Among the dead are a family of three – Roberto Robbiano, 44, Ersilia Piccinino, 41, and their young son Samuel.
One of the most compelling testimonies came from Davide Capello, 33, a former goalkeeper for Serie A side Cagliari. His car fell 30m in the collapse but came to rest in a pocket between the columns and he survived.
“I was able to get out… I don’t know how my car wasn’t crushed. It seemed like a scene from a film, it was the apocalypse,” he said.
Valentina Galbusera, 43, a doctor, told La Stampa: “The bridge fell in front of me, not even 20m away, I avoided the collapse by only a couple of seconds. I felt the bridge was shaking and I tried to reverse. Then I got out of the car and started running.”
Wednesday brought an angry response to the collapse from Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli.
He called on the top management of Autostrade per L’Italia, which oversees maintenance, to resign, saying it had failed to meet its contractual obligations. He said he would seek to fine the company heavily and revoke its operational licence.
The company repeated that it had monitored the bridge quarterly, as required by the law.The Genoa Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into possible negligent homicide. The head prosecutor blamed “human error”.
The state of the bridge and the responses to the collapse throw light on what has been a long-standing debate about Italian infrastructure.
This was the fifth bridge collapse in Italy in five years, according to Corriere Della Sera.
There have been previous reports and comments questioning how the Morandi bridge was built and how long it could last.
In December 2012, the Genoa city council discussed the state of the bridge at a public hearing into how to expand the local transport infrastructure. A local industry confederation official spoke of the collapse of the Morandi bridge “in 10 years”.
In 2016, structural engineer Antonio Brencich spoke of “errors in this bridge”.
The issue of transport in the area is now critical, given that the bridge was a major arterial route for an important port city.
The prime minister has said all infrastructure across the country will be double-checked. A huge tower and sections of the bridge – measuring about 200m – collapsed on to railway lines, a river and a warehouse.
The motorway operator said work to shore up the bridge’s foundation was being carried out at the time.
Autostrade per l’Italia admitted in 2011 the bridge had been suffering from degradation due to heavy traffic.