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Italy declares state of emergency for Genoa following collapse of decades-old concrete bridge

By Colleen Barry, The Associated Press   


GENOA, Italy—The Italian Cabinet has approved a 12-month state of emergency for Genoa after a key highway bridge collapsed August 14, killing at least 39 people.

The bridge gave way during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 50 metres (nearly 180 feet) into a heap of rubble below.

Genoa prosecutor Francesco Cozzi says the investigation into the fatal collapse is focusing on the maintenance and design of the bridge.

Cozzi told reporters August 15 that he didn’t know if anyone bore legal responsibility for the collapse but said “for sure it was not an accident.”

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says his government won’t wait until prosecutors finish investigating to yank the concession from the main private company that maintains Italy’s highways.

Conte led an emergency Cabinet meeting Wednesday in Genoa. He called the tragedy “unacceptable in a modern society” and vowed to work so similar events won’t happen again.

He said Italy will look for another company to maintain much of the nation’s highway system and will demand “more stringent” rules about maintenance.

Conte also called for swift removal of the tons of debris that fell in Genoa to facilitate rail travel and reduce the danger of floods.

Cozzi said there were no pending complaints involving the bridge in recent years, and that they were also checking archives. But he noted if there had been serious concerns about the safety of the bridge in the prosecutor’s office “none of us would have driven over that highway 20 times a month as we do.”

Still, the head of Italy’s transport department has said that a $22.7 million safety upgrade for the bridge had been planned.

It’s too early to say what caused the deadly collapse, but corrosion or weather conditions could have been part of the cause, a structural engineer specializing in bridges says.

“As this reinforced and prestressed concrete bridge has been there for 50 years it is possible that corrosion of tendons or reinforcement may be a contributory factor,” said Ian Firth, former president of The Institution of Structural Engineers.

“The fact that there was reported to be a storm at the time may or may not be particularly relevant. In addition, ongoing work on the bridge may or may not be partly responsible for the collapse,” he added.

Firth said the bridge is an unusual design but is similar to a larger bridge in Venezuela, and both were designed by Riccardo Morandi.

Inaugurated in 1967, the Morandi Bridge is 90 metres (295 feet) high, just over a kilometre (.6 miles) long, with the longest section between supports measuring 200 metres (over 650 feet).

It is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli said reconstruction of the key artery should begin “as quickly as possible.”

The disaster occurred on the eve of a major Italian holiday on Wednesday, Ferragosto. Traffic would have been heavier than usual as many Italians travelled to beaches or mountains.

With files from The Associated Press


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