Daily Southtown

Italian bridge collapse kills 26, authoritie­s say

At least 15 hurt as dozens of vehicles fall ‘into the void’

- By Chico Harlan and Avi Selk Associated Press contribute­d.

ROME — A 51-year-old highway bridge along the northern Italian coast collapsed Tuesday in an alarming infrastruc­ture failure, sending concrete and vehicles plunging more than 150 feet and leaving dozens dead in the rubble below.

At least 26 people were killed and 15 others injured as officials prepared to investigat­e how the bridge gave out, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

“These kind of tragedies cannot and should not happen in a civil country,” Italy’s Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told TV channel TG1. “Those who will be considered responsibl­e will need to pay to the last cent. It should not be possible to see images like these in a country like Italy.”

The event mortified a country that is increasing­ly known, despite its beauty, for its creaky underpinni­ngs, particular­ly after two decades of economic stagnation. The bridge collapse took place during one of Italy’s busiest periods for holiday traffic, when families abandon cities en masse and head toward the beach, including to the small towns to the east and west of Genoa overlookin­g the Ligurian Sea.

The collapse in Genoa occurred during a rainstorm. As helicopter­s waited nearby, rescuers with the help of sniffing dogs scrambled to pull people from the rubble, scaling slabs of concrete angled like mountains.

One Italian official told ANSA that 30 to 35 cars and three trucks were on the Morandi Bridge when it collapsed. The bridge spans a three-quarter-mile section of the coastal city and carries traffic between Italy and France.

Video showed witnesses screaming just after a section of the bridge gave way. One truck was stopped a few feet from the edge of the chasm — the edge of the bridge sheared off.

“O Dio, O Dio, O Dio,” an onlooker screamed.

One witness, who gave his name as Andrea Rescigno and said he was in his car at the time of the bridge collapse, said in a phone interview with Genoa TV station Primocanal­e that he saw “cars and trucks plunging into the void.”

“I saw death,” Rescigno said. “My wife screamed at me to stop. If not for that we’d be dead now.”

It was unclear what had caused the collapse, but the event raised questions among some Italian government officials about maintenanc­e of their country’s infrastruc­ture — a common concern in developed countries, where many of the roadways were built decades ago. The prosecutor’s office in Genoa said it was ready to open a criminal inquiry.

The company that operates and maintains the highway, along with many other roads in Italy, said Tuesday that “stabilizat­ion” work was ongoing at time of the collapse. The highway bridge was erected in the 1960s, the company, Autostrade per l’Italia, said.

“The causes of the collapse will be the subject of an in-depth analysis as soon as it is possible to gain safe access to the site,” Autostrade per l’Italia said.

After the collapse in Genoa, several people were pulled from the rubble alive, according to Italian media reports.

The disaster and its aftermath provide a test for Italy’s new government, a coalition of two populist parties that took power 2 1⁄2 months ago. The government had not placed an emphasis on road and highway spending in its platform, but its leaders spoke Tuesday about the need for investment. Speaking to TG1, Toninelli said Italy would need to perform checkups on highway bridges built between the 1950s and 1970s.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the highestpro­file politician in Italy’s government, said the country needed to figure out the “names and surnames of those who are guilty of these unacceptab­le deaths.”

The Morandi Bridge was named after its engineer, Riccardo Morandi, who died in 1989, but locals often called it the Brooklyn Bridge because of its passing resemblanc­e. The bridge ran parallel to the coastline, roughly one mile inland, crossing an industrial area lined with railroad tracks.

One engineer familiar with the bridge said there were signs of trouble: The bridge was “continuous­ly under maintenanc­e” and showed “grave issues of corrosion,” Antonio Brencich, an associate professor of constructi­on at the University of Genoa, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Marco Ponti, an expert on the economics of transporta­tion and an adviser to the transporta­tion ministry, said that reinforced concrete can “hold its own for 50 years.” But after that point, “it gets troublesom­e,” he said, because the iron bars used in the structure can corrode.

 ?? FLAVIO LO SCALZO/ASNA ?? Crews sift through bridge rubble to search for any survivors Tuesday in Genoa, Italy.
FLAVIO LO SCALZO/ASNA Crews sift through bridge rubble to search for any survivors Tuesday in Genoa, Italy.

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