Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, has declared a state of emergency covering the region around Genoa, after a bridge collapse killed at least 39 people and severed the port city’s main land corridor with southern France.
He also took aim at operator Autostrade, a unit of Milan-listed Atlantia group, which operated the bridge as part of a stretch of the A10 motorway it manages.
Conte said the firm had been responsible for ensuring safety on the bridge and the government would not await the outcome of a current criminal investigation into the disaster before taking action.
“A cabinet meeting took place in which we have decreed a 12-month state of emergency and made available a first allocation worth 5 million Euros for the national emergencies fund,” Conte said in a news conference.
The announcement comes as rescuers are continuing to search for survivors among huge chunks of debris after the bridge in Genoa collapsed on Monday.
Furious government ministers have rounded on the viaduct’s operator, saying it should pay fines and compensation and lose its concession.
The 50-year-old bridge, part of a toll motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, collapsed during torrential rain yesterday, sending dozens of vehicles crashing onto a riverbed, a railway and two warehouses.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, visiting the disaster scene, said bridge operator Autostrade would have to contribute to the cost of its reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.
Conte said “all infrastructure” across the country needed to be double-checked.
“We must not allow another tragedy like this to happen again”.
Rescuers searching through the wreckage, strewn among shrubland and train tracks, said there were “dozens” of victims, as rescue helicopters winched survivors on stretchers from the ruined bridge.
Cars and trucks were tangled in the rubble and nearby buildings damaged by vast chunks of concrete.
But Autostrade, a unit of Milan-listed Atlantia group, 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.
However, the bridge’s condition, 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 the collapse, when an 80-metre span gave way as cars packed with holidaymakers as well as trucks streamed across it.
“We’re not giving up hope, we’ve already saved a dozen people from under the rubble,” said fire official Emanuele Giffi.“We’re going to work round the clock until the last victim is secured.”
The incident – the deadliest of its kind in Europe since 2001 – 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.
Aerial footage showed more than 200 metres of the viaduct, known locally as the Morandi bridge, completely destroyed.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the private sector manager of the bridge 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.
The Pope offered a prayer for the victims and their loved ones in a public address at St Peter’s Basilica:“While I entrust those, who have lost their lives to the mercy of God, I express my spiritual closeness to their families, to the injured, evacuees and all those who have suffered due to this dramatic event”.
Fire Brigade Spokesman, Luca Cari, said 400 firefighters were at the site, lifting big chunks of concrete to create spaces for rescue teams to check for survivors.
In Paris, France’s foreign ministry said three French nationals were among the dead.
The Morandi Bridge, named after the engineer, who designed it, forms part of the A10 motorway run by Autostrade.
The 55km stretch of the A10 accounts for around 1.7 per cent of total network traffic for Italy’s biggest toll road operator, according to one analyst’s estimate.
Autostrade’s parent, Atlantia, also runs toll-road concessions in Brazil, Chile, India and Poland.
“The top management of Autostrade per l’Italia must step down first of all,” Mr Toninelli said in a Facebook post.
He also said the government would inspect the structure of ageing bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a programme of remedial works if required.