Italians point fingers, seek answers after bridge collapse kills 39

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By Linda Givetash and Lucy Kafanov and Claudio Lavanga and Nancy Ing and Reuters and Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: Collapsed bridge in Genoa, Italy
Vehicles remained on the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on Wednesday.   -   Copyright  Luca Zennaro

GENOA, Italy — Firefighters continued an around-the-clock search of the rubble in this northern Italian city Wednesday as questions were raised about what caused a bridge collapse that killed at least 39 people.Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini warned that whoever was responsible would have to "pay dearly" after an 80-yard section of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa fell following a violent storm Tuesday.


Dozens of cars and three trucks plunged as much as 150 feet to the ground. Around 400 firefighters worked through the night, lifting big chunks of concrete to create spaces for rescue teams to check for survivors.Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the government would inspect aging bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a program of remedial works if required.Corruption in the public sector has been highlighted as an issue in recent years.A2014 report by the European Commission warned that infrastructure projects were at the greatest risk of corruption and infiltration by organized crime as part of Italy's public procurement process.Such corruption occurs most frequently at the stage when quality checks are carried out, according to experts.

Vehicles remained on the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on Wednesday.
Vehicles remained on the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on Wednesday.Luca Zennaro

When the highway overpass was completed in 1967, it was considered innovative for its use of concrete around its cables.However, traffic levels on it were higher than its designers had envisioned. One expert in such construction, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge "a failure of engineering."> "So many people that lived here lost their lives, children. 'Why children, why not me?' This is the thought I have."

The Italian CNR civil engineering society said structures dating from when the Morandi Bridge was built had surpassed their lifespan. It called for a "Marshall Plan" to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s. It said that simply updating or reinforcing the bridges would be more expensive than destroying and rebuilding them with new technology.Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said pressure from "dynamic loads," such as heavy traffic or strong winds, could have resulted in "fatigue damage" in the bridge's parts.Work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse, but the toll highway's operator Autostrade per L'Italia said it was constantly being monitored.Toninelli, the transport minister, suggested Autostrade would have to contribute to the cost of its reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.

But Autostrade 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.Silvia Vieri, who was on the bridge in a car with her boyfriend when the span collapsed in front of them, told NBC News that she believes the government is at fault for not investing in the upkeep of infrastructure."They spend money on themselves, but not for the community," she said Wednesday.Vieri said her boyfriend, who is a firefighter, managed to pull three people from the rubble while they waited for help to arrive.

Abandoned vehicles remained on the bridge on Wednesday.
Abandoned vehicles remained on the bridge on Wednesday.Valery Hache

"So many people that lived here lost their lives, children," Vieri said. "''Why children, why not me?' This is the thought I have."The bridge is part of a major route running through the Italian Riviera to France's southern coast.At least three of those killed were French nationals, according to the country's foreign ministry.Lucy Kafanov reported from Genoa, Claudio Lavanga from Rome, Linda Givetash from London, and Nancy Ing from Paris.