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World Behind the Genoa bridge collapse: At least 39 dead as rescuers scramble to find survivors

Rescue services attend the scene at the Morandi bridge which collapsed on August 14, 2018 in Genoa, Italy.

Paolo Rattini/AFP/Getty Images

The collapse of the elevated Genoa. Italy, highway bridge during a severe storm on Tuesday has killed at least 39 people, but authorities fear that toll will grow as rescue efforts continue.

Shortly after the bridge collapsed in the northwestern Italian industrial and port city – the birthplace of Christopher Columbus – the Italian media reported that an engineer had warned two years ago that the soaring 1960s structure had a troubled maintenance history and often required hefty repair jobs.

In his assessment, Antonio Brencich of the University of Genoa said the bridge had been the “object of deep maintenance that leads to the expectation that, in not too many years, maintenance costs will exceed the cost of reconstructing the bridge: At that point, the time will come to demolish the bridge and rebuild it.”

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The bridge, known as the Morandi Viaduct, collapsed shortly before noon, local time, during heavy rainfall, sending about 20 vehicles plunging some 80 or 90 metres into the industrial zone below. “It was just after 11:30 when we saw lightning strike the bridge,” eyewitness Pietro all’Asa told ANSA. “And we saw the bridge going down.”

Italian highway bridge collapse

A bridge on a main highway between Italy and

France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa,

causing multiple casualties

Morandi Bridge:80-metre section over Polcevera

River and rail tracks collapses

Casualties:At least 26 people confirmed dead,

others seriously injured. More than 20 vehicles

involved

A10

Genoa

SS1

Genoa

ITALY

0

200

0

550

KM

m

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GRAPHIC

NEWS; ASSOCIATED PRESS; BBC; GOOGLE EARTH

Italian highway bridge collapse

A bridge on a main highway between Italy and France

collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa, causing

multiple casualties

Casualties:At least 16 people confirmed

dead, others seriously injured. More than

20 vehicles involved

Morandi Bridge:80-metre section over Polcevera River and rail tracks collapses

A10

Genoa

SS1

Genoa

ITALY

0

200

0

550

KM

m

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GRAPHIC NEWS; ASSOCIATED PRESS;

BBC; PICTURE: GOOGLE EARTH

Italian highway bridge collapse

A bridge on a main highway between Italy and France collapsed

in the Italian port city of Genoa, causing multiple casualties

Casualties:At least 26 people confirmed dead, others

seriously injured. More than 20 vehicles involved

Morandi Bridge: 80-metre

section over Polcevera

River and rail tracks

collapses

A10

Genoa

Genoa

SS1

ITALY

0

200

0

550

KM

m

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU;

GRAPHIC NEWS; ASSOCIATED PRESS; BBC; PICTURE: GOOGLE EARTH

As bodies were being retrieved from cars in the rubble, Italian Infrastructures and Transports Minister Danilo Toninelli said the country likely faced “an immense tragedy.”

The death toll seems likely to rise, since enormous chunks of concrete from the collapsed, 80-metre bridge section may have struck inhabited structures. “The size of this disaster is epochal, there are dozens of deaths, including people who fell from the bridge and those who remain trapped underneath the rubble,” Francesco Bermano, head of the region’s ambulance service, said.

The Morandi Viaduct was built in the mid-1960s and inaugurated in 1967. It is 90 metres high, almost 1.2 kilometres long and is part of the A10 highway, which leads to the Italian Riviera and the southern coast of France. The traffic on the bridge would have been heavy on Tuesday as Italians were leaving the city for the traditional Ferragosto holiday, which sees millions flee to beaches, mountains and lakes to escape the high summer heat.

The Italian government is blaming the operator of the bridge, Reuters reported, with the deputy prime minister saying it didn’t spend the money it was supposed to on the structure.

“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.

The operator, in turn, said it in fact has been checking the bridge on a regular basis.

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“The company’s technicians have relied, in order to assess the state of the viaduct and the efficacy of control systems being adopted, of companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections based on best international practices,” it said.

An investigation is already under way to determine the cause of the collapse. Inevitably, questions will be asked about the quality of the maintenance work and whether construction companies related to the Mafia were involved in any of the repairs. Structural work was done on the bridge in 2016, and work to shore up the foundations was being carried out at the time of the collapse, according to various media reports.

Mafia-related companies are known to have infiltrated the Italian cement and reconstruction industries over the decades, and prosecutors have accused them of doing shoddy work that cannot withstand high stress. The Mafia is notorious for nabbing reconstruction contracts after earthquakes and cutting corners.

In 2016, Franco Roberti, then-head of Italy’s anti-Mafia directorate, said Italian authorities must ensure the Mafia plays no role in the reconstruction work of the towns in central Italy that were destroyed that year by earthquakes which killed about 300 people. “There are risks; it is useless to hide it,” he told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper. “The risk of infiltration is always high. Postearthquake reconstruction is a tasty morsel for criminal organizations and business interests.”

Questions will also be asked about Italy’s infrastructure spending and whether it had sunk to dangerous levels since the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered austerity-related spending cutbacks throughout the European Union.

Data provided by the European Commission (the EU’s executive arm) indicate that Italy, which will become the EU’s third-largest economy after Britain departs the union, receives transportation infrastructure ratings that are only slightly below the EU average.

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But there is no doubt that some individual infrastructure projects, such as Genoa’s Morandi Viaduct, were either not in top shape or were poorly designed. Mr. Brencich, the engineer who wrote the 2016 assessment, noted that the bridge “presented several problematic aspects.”

A motorway bridge collapsed on Tuesday over the northern Italian port city of Genoa, killing dozens of people according to the local ambulance service, in what the transport minister said was likely to be "an immense tragedy." Reuters
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