Genoa disaster: State of emergency declared as death toll rises

Italy’s grief turns to anger as condition of the 50-year-old bridge that collapsed is debated

Italian firefighters carried out a dramatic rescue on Tuesday (August 14) retrieving a person who had been caught in the mangled ruins of his car suspended in the air after the collapse of a motorway bridge.

 

Rescue workers combed through the rubble of Italy’s bridge collapse on Wednesday as the death toll climbed to 39 and the government blamed the bridge’s private owner, demanding resignations and moving to strip its toll concession.

The 50-year-old bridge, part of a toll motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, collapsed during torrential rain on Tuesday, sending dozens of vehicles crashing onto a riverbed, a railway and two warehouses.

As cranes moved in to shift truck-sized chunks of broken concrete, hundreds of firefighters searched for survivors, while public shock and grief turned to anger over the state of the 1.2km-long bridge, completed in 1967 and overhauled two years ago.

The condition of the bridge, and its ability to sustain large increases in both the intensity and weight of traffic over the years, have been a focus of public debate since Tuesday’s collapse, when an 80m span gave way at lunchtime as trucks and cars packed with holidaymakers streamed across it.

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte declared a 12-month state of emergency requested by the Liguria region after the collapse.

Italy’s transport minister said on Wednesday he had begun a process to fire the bridge’s concession-holder, Italian motorway firm Autostrade, a unit of Atlantia group, and he demanded top Autostrade managers resign.

“Autostrade per l’Italia was not able to fulfill its obligations under the contract regulating management of this infrastructure,” Danilo Toninelli said on RAI 1 state TV, adding that he would also seek to levy heavy fines against the company.

“I have given mandate to my ministry to start all proceedings to apply the agreement, that is to revoke the concession from these companies and seek significant sanctions which can reach up to €150 million based on the terms of the contract.”

However, Autostrade said it had done regular, sophisticated checks on the structure before the disaster, relying on “companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections” and that these had provided reassuring results.

“These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the transport ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession agreement,” it said.

A source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday that Autostrade’s top two officials have no plans to resign.

‘Serious wound’

Rescue and recovery efforts were continuing at the scene of the disaster, which occurred during a torrential downpour when the bridge was busy with people heading away for the summer Ferragosto holiday. Mr Conte has visited the city and called the collapse of the bridge “a serious wound for Genoa, Liguria and Italy”.

Dozens of cars and other vehicles plunged nearly 50m when the 80m stretch of road broke off from the Morandi Bridge, and the cause is under investigation.

The bridge, named after the engineer who designed it, forms part of the A10 motorway run by Autostrade. The A10’s 55km stretch accounts for around 1.7 per cent of total network traffic for Italy’s biggest toll road operator, according to one analyst’s estimate.

“The top management of Autostrade per l’Italia must step down first of all,” Toninelli said in a Facebook post.

He also said the government would carry out nationwide structural inspections of ageing bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a programme of remedial works if required.

Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government that took office in June said the collapse showed Italy needed to spend more on its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

“We should ask ourselves whether respecting these limits is more important than the safety of Italian citizens. Obviously for me, it is not,” said deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing League, part of the ruling coalition.

Salvini later said the highway operator had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money they were supposed to” and its concession should be revoked. He was apparently referring to Autostrade. “Imposing the highest penalties possible and making sure that those responsible for the dead and the injured pay up for any damages and crimes is the very least,” he said.

Pope Francis offered a prayer for the victims and their loved ones in a public address at St Peter’s Basilica. In Paris, France’s foreign ministry said four French nationals were among the dead.

Genoa police put the death toll at 39, with 16 injured.– Reuters/PA