Italy’s transport minister has called on senior managers at the company that operated the collapsed Genoa motorway bridge to resign, as the death toll rose to at least 39.
Rescuers searched overnight for survivors through tons of concrete and steel under the shattered structure of the Morandi Bridge. “We’re not giving up hope, we’ve already saved a dozen people from under the rubble,” a fire official, Emanuele Giffi, told AFP. “We’re going to work round the clock until the last victim is secured.”
It is not yet clear what caused the bridge to collapse, which came as maintenance work was being done on the bridge and as the Liguria region experienced torrential rainfall.
Danilo Toninelli, the transport minister, said on Wednesday that the top level of Autostrade per l’Italia “must step down first of all”. He told RAI television the government intended to cancel its deal to manage the A10 toll motorway connecting Genoa to the French border.
“I have given mandate to my ministry to start all proceedings to apply the agreement, that is to revoke the concession from these companies and seek significant sanctions.”
The deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday: “Those responsible for the tragedy in Genoa have a name and a surname, and they’re called Autostrade per l’Italia. For years it’s been said that private management would be better than that of the state.
“And so today, we have one of the biggest dealers in Europe telling us that the bridge was safe and there was no worry of it collapsing. Autostrade had to maintain it but didn’t. It takes the highest road tolls in Europe and pays low taxes, moreover in Luxembourg.”
The interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said earlier on Wednesday that those responsible would “pay, pay everything, and pay dearly”.
A criminal inquiry into the collapse has been announced.
In what witnesses described as an “apocalypse”, an 80-metre section of the Morandi Bridge came down in an industrial area of the port city during a sudden and violent storm at about 11.30am on Tuesday. About 30 vehicles, including cars and trucks, were on the affected section when it fell 100 metres, mostly on to rail tracks, the fire service said.
Aerial footage showed that the falling structure narrowly missed houses and other buildings as it collapsed over a river.
The disaster occurred on a major artery to the Italian Riviera and to France’s southern coast. Traffic would have been heavier than usual as many Italians were travelling on the eve of the Ferragosto public holiday.
“The scene is apocalyptic, like a bomb had hit the bridge,” Matteo Pucciarelli, a journalist for La Repubblica who lives in Genoa, told the Guardian. “There are about 200 rescuers working continuously. People are in shock, it’s a very important arterial road that connects Lombardy and Piedmont with Liguria.”
Alberto Lercari, a bus driver, earlier told Corriere della Sera: “I saw people running towards me, barefoot and terrified. I heard a roar. People ran away coming towards me. It was horrible.”
Davide Ricci, who had been travelling south, told La Stampa: “The debris landed about 20 metres from my car. First the central pillar crumbled and then everything else came down.”
Matteo Pierami drove across the bridge with his wife and child, aged two months, almost an hour before it collapsed. The family had been making their way from Lucca in Tuscany to the Ligurian town of Imperia. A couple of friends and their baby had been travelling in another car.
“I’ve had some time to calm down and am now trying to understand what happened, but my wife and our friends are very shocked,” Pierami said. “We didn’t hear or see anything, but after passing the bridge stopped at an Autogrill [roadside restaurant], and started to receive calls from family.”
Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, arrived in Genoa on Tuesday night.: “It’s too early to talk about the causes and hypothesis, but one thing is certain, a tragedy of this kind cannot be repeated,” he said.
The president, Sergio Mattarella, expressed his condolences in a statement, while stressing that Italians should be guaranteed the right “to modern and efficient infrastructure that accompanies everyday life”.
“Now is the time for a common commitment towards dealing with the emergency, assisting the injured and supporting those hit by the pain,” he said. “Then a serious investigation into the cause of what happened must follow. No authority can evade an exercise of full responsibility.”
The Morandi Bridge, which was inaugurated in 1967, is 90 metres high and just over 1km long. Restructuring work on the bridge was carried out in 2016. The highway operator said work to strengthen the road foundations of the bridge was being carried out at the time of the collapse, and that the bridge was constantly monitored.
Andrea Montefusco, an engineering expert at Luiss University in Rome who grew up in Genoa said: “It [the bridge] was a sort of jewel in Italian engineering, because at that time it was built with new engineering techniques. I used to enjoy passing over the bridge as a child, it was a novelty.”
About 12 other bridges and overpasses have collapsed in Italy since 2004, killing seven people between them. In early 2015 a €13m viaduct in Palermo collapsed within days of opening. Poor structural maintenance was identified as the cause in most of the cases.
Salvini also claimed that EU spending rules could have been responsible for the collapse of the bridge. “If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules,”he said.
The EU does not place restrictions on how national governments spend their budgets, although eurozone members are expected to keep debt and deficits within limits.