TROUBLING PHOTO: Alarming photo from before bridge collapse
ITALIAN Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a state of emergency covering the region around Genoa after a bridge collapse killed dozens of people and severed the port city's main land corridor with southern France.
Mr Conte, speaking at a news conference in Genoa, said he made the declaration after a request from regional authorities.
He also took aim at toll-road operator Autostrade, a unit of the Atlantia group, which operated the bridge as part of a stretch of the A10 motorway it manages.
Mr 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.
Bridges across Italy were being frantically inspected by engineers with the death toll from the Morandi Bridge disaster in Genoa soaring to at least 39 people.
The families of the victims are furious at Italy's governing Five Star Movement, which reportedly dismissed fears that the bridge would collapse as a "fairy story" while opposing repair work as a "waste of money".
A now-deleted statement on the party's website from 2013 stated that a plan to improve Genoa's highways was "an obsolete idea with exorbitant costs that, in the end, would fall entrely on citizens".
The revelation came as photos taken weeks before the bridge's collapse showed it buckling, while other parts and cables hang loosely from its edges.
The disaster has now been dubbed a "tragedy waiting to happen", while it has been suggested the mafia may have been involved in its construction.
Dave Parker, from New Civil Engineer, today told Radio 4's Today: "The mafia had a very big finger in the pie of the concrete industry back then, charging full price and putting less cement in."
And Canada's Globe and Mail reports that "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".
Authorities are working under floodlights through tonnes of twisted mass of concrete and steel to find possible survivors after a 200m section of the 50m high bridge collapsed during heavy rainfall, killing at least 39 people and injured at least 15 others.
Authorities said they expected the death toll to rise further.
The incident was being treated like an earthquake situation and teams of rescue workers, sniffer dogs and about 200 firefighters combed through the rubble throughout the day and night following the 11.30am collapse.
Most of the buildings below the collapsed section were fortunately empty ahead of a national holiday today.
Areas about the highway bridge, that connects northwest Italy with the Liguria region coastline and France, were still being evacuated yesterday amid fears other sections of the 1km long bridge may now give way.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the catastrophe had hit Genoa and the whole of Italy, as attention turned to what might have caused the collapse and who might be ultimately responsible.
"Italians have the right to modern and efficient infrastructure that accompanies them safely through their everyday lives," Mr Mattarella.
Already reports had surfaced that there had been warnings about the bridge, named after its designer Riccardo Morandi and built between 1963 and 1967, for at least the past two years with engineers warning it was poorly designed and had a life span of 50 years.
"It was affected by extremely serious corrosion problems linked to the technology that was used (in construction)," Genoa University professor Antonio Brencich who specialises in concrete structures said. "Morandi wanted to use a technology that he had patented that was no longer used afterwards and that showed itself to be a failure."
The demolition and rebuild of the bridge, that caters for 25 million vehicles a year, had been looked at since 2009.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said "all infrastructure" across the country needed to be double-checked.
"We must not allow another tragedy like this to happen again," he added as he visited the disaster site.
Those checks would focus on the northwest of Italy particularly which is noted for its rugged ranges and numerous tunnels and bridges.
The civil engineering society CNR called for a "Marshall Plan" to repair or replace tens of thousands of dated bridges while the Order of Architects added: "The Italy built in the 1950s and 1960s is in urgent need of renovation, the risk of collapses is underestimated …".
The Infrastructures and Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli said despite reports to the contrary, there was no maintenance work being conducted on the bridge at the time of the collapse but ironically a major tender for a $25 million safety work program for the bridge had just begun.
At least four survivors were plucked from their cars and taken to hospital.
Truck driver Alberto Lercari was filmed describing the moment he emerged from a tunnel to a scene of chaos.
"I saw people running towards me, barefoot and terrified," he said. "I came out of the gallery and saw slowdowns and heard a roar. People ran away coming towards me. It was horrible."