Europe

'Immense tragedy': Dozens dead in Italy motorway bridge collapse

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Dozens have died after a major motorway bridge collapsed in Italy.

Italian rescuers searched through the night Wednesday for any survivors under the shattered remains of a motorway bridge in Genoa as investigators probed what could have caused such a catastrophic collapse.

Some 30 people were killed on Tuesday when a vast span of the Morandi bridge collapsed during a heavy rainstorm, sending vehicles and their drivers plunging 100-metres (330 feet) onto railway tracks below. 

Rescuers spent the night searching the tangled remains of the bridge under floodlights and there are fears the toll could rise in what the Italian government has called an "immense tragedy".

The collapse came as the bridge was undergoing maintenance work and as the Liguria region, where Genoa is situated, experienced torrential rainfall.

Rescuers work to recover a body after the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in Genoa.
Rescuers work to recover a body after the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in Genoa.
AAP

"Unfortunately there are around 30 dead and many injured in a serious condition," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told reporters.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said a "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," Mattarella said in a statement.

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.

Rescuers on the bridge.
Rescuers on the bridge.
AAP

'Not giving up hope' 

Rescuers scouring 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, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

"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."

As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Morrocan lorry driver, just managed to come to a halt in time.

Vehicles lay strewn on the ground.
Vehicles lay strewn on the ground.
AAP

"I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran," he told AFP.

The green lorry was still on the bridge late evening, stopped just short of the now yawning gap.

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. 

'Unacceptable' way to die 

Aerial footage showed more than 200 metres (650 feet) of the viaduct, known locally as the Morandi bridge, completely destroyed. 

"I'm following with the utmost apprehension what is happening in Genoa and what looks like it could be an immense tragedy," Transport and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter.

Salvini, who is also leader of the nationalist League party in the coalition government, vowed to hold those responsible for the disaster accountable.

"I have gone over this bridge hundreds of times, and I commit to digging and finding out who is responsible for an unacceptable tragedy, because it's not possible that in 2018 you can work and die in these conditions," he said.

The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, although weather services in the Liguria region had issued a storm warning Tuesday morning.

The national motorways body said on its website that "maintenance works were being carried out on the base of the viaduct", adding that a crane had been moved on site to assist the work.

Dozens are feared dead.
Several dozens are feared dead.
AAP

History of collapses 

Genoa, home to half a million people, is located between the sea and the mountains of northwestern Italy. 

Its rugged terrain means that motorways that run through the city and the surrounding area are characterised by long viaducts and tunnels.

The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines as well as an industrial zone with several factories. 

One factory, immediately next to one of the viaduct's support columns, was virtually empty on Tuesday on the eve of a national holiday, and seems to have sustained minimal damage.

"I live nearby and I cross the bridge every day on foot," said Ibou Toure, 23, a translator. "I was never sure of it, you'd always hear these noises whenever lorries were going over. 

"When I heard it had collapsed, I wasn't surprised."

In March last year, a couple were killed when a motorway overpass collapsed on their car near Ancona on the country's Adriatic coast. 

A pensioner died in October 2016 when his car was crushed by a collapsing bridge over a dual carriageway between Milan and Lecco. 

That incident was blamed on bureaucratic bungling which led to a fatal delay in the bridge being closed after it was reported to be showing significant cracks.

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