Published: Thu, August 16, 2018
Finance | By Loren Pratt

Death toll climbs following Italian bridge collapse

Death toll climbs following Italian bridge collapse

Italy's deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio, blamed the bridge collapse on a lack of maintenance by the private company that operates numerous nation's toll highways.

Among the 39 dead were three children and dozens more were injured.

Rescuers scoured crushed mountains of rubble for victims of a bridge collapse in Genoa as the toll rose to 39 Wednesday and Italy's government blamed the company in charge of motorways for the disaster.

"The scene is apocalyptic, like a bomb had hit the bridge", Matteo Pucciarelli, a journalist for the Italian daily La Repubblica, told the Guardian. "People are in shock".

Around 1,000 rescue workers continued their search through tonnes of rubble for any more bodies.

"There can not be such slaughter without guilt", said Matteo Salvini, minister of the interior, one of two deputy prime ministers and the most powerful politician in the country.

The Morandi bridge carries a major road, the A10 toll motorway, which serves the Italian Riviera and links northern Italy to France.

"Fifty years ago, we had unlimited confidence in reinforced concrete, we thought it was eternal, but now we know that it only lasted a few decades", Diego Zoppi, former president of the Genoa branch of the order of architects, told reporters on Tuesday. It is in continual maintenance.

"In the 90s they added some reinforcements on one part, but also underneath you can see rust".

Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said the tragedy "could have been avoided".

"For years it's been said that private management would be better than that of the state", Di Maio said.

Ignoring the fact that the European Union had approved the Gronda funds, Matteo Salvini - Italy's other euroskeptic deputy prime minister - seized on the Morandi Bridge collapse to question whether European Union budget rules had contributed to the disaster by preventing much-needed investment in infrastructure.

But Autostrade per l'Italia said it was confident it could prove it met contractual obligations for the concession.

Danilo Toninelli, the country's transport minister and a member of Five Star Movement, however, called on senior managers of Autostrade to resign, and vowed to punish those responsible.

On Wednesday, officials ordered buildings in the vicinity of the bridge to evacuate, saying there was a risk that other sections could fall.

Pictures also posted by the family show them among the crowds taking cover in a nearby tunnel having run to safety away from the area which collapsed.

Local people said they had also expressed concerns about the structure in the past.

A 20 million-euro ($31 million) project to upgrade the bridge's safety had already been approved, with public bids to be submitted by September. The tender provided for a strengthening of the bridge's pier cables, including those of pier nine, the one that collapsed on Tuesday.

Engineering experts say it's too early to say why the bridge disintegrated, but point to a history of problems with its design.

Yesterday, a section of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa collapsed causing vehicles to plunge around 50 metres off the bridge.

One expert, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge "a failure of engineering".

The incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy. "We must not allow another tragedy like this to happen again", he added.

There has been anger and disbelief in Italy that such a vital structure could have simply given way.

He said Italy will look for another company to maintain much of the nation's highway system and will demand "more stringent" rules about maintenance.

Investigators, meanwhile, were working to determine what caused an 80-metre long stretch of highway to break off from the 45-metre high bridge in the northwestern port city.

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