As rescue workers searched for survivors amid the rubble of Genoa’s Morandi Bridge Wednesday, it emerged that Italy’s populist 5 Star Movement had repeatedly dismissed warnings about the safety of the flawed structure, and opposed major infrastructure works to improve it.
At least 38 people died in the collapse, prompting Italy's President Sergio Mattarella to call for a "serious and severe examination of the causes.”
According to police, a large section of the bridge collapsed amid a torrential downpour Tuesday morning, sending some 30 vehicles plummeting about 45 meters into an industrial area below, trapping cars and their occupants beneath the rubble.
The death toll from the disaster — the worst of its kind in Europe since 2001 — is expected to rise as multiple people remain missing. Emergency workers recovered three bodies overnight, and were now using cranes to search under large pieces of debris, fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP. “We cannot know if there are survivors remaining, but it's our job to search,” he said.
Sixteen people suffered injuries in the collapse, with 12 of them seriously wounded.
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday evening that authorities were working on the theory of “structural failure” as the reason for the collapse.
His government has been quick to blame Autostrade per l'Italia, the private sector company in charge of the country's motorways, accusing it of failing to adequately maintain the bridge.
“Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn't do it,” said Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, adding that the tragedy “could have been avoided.” His government said it planned to revoke the company’s contract and hit it with a fine of 150 million euros ($170 million), while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli called for the company’s top management to resign.
But Di Maio and Toninelli’s own party, the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, had repeatedly dismissed warnings about the safety of the bridge before coming to power, in line with its populist opposition to major infrastructure projects over their cost and the disruption they cause to locals.
A 2013 statement on the party’s website dismissed warnings of “the imminent collapse of the Morandi Bridge” as a “favoletta” — a fairy tale. The statement by a local committee of the 5 Star Movement — which has since been taken down from the website, although a cached version and a PDF version can still be found online — was made in opposition to the “Gronda di Genova,” a proposed infrastructure project for motorways in Genoa that included improvements to the collapsed bridge.
The Huffington Post also reported that at a December 2012 meeting of a Genoa City Council, a warning that a solution was urgently needed as the bridge would collapse within 10 years was rejected by 5 Star representative Paolo Putti.
Since forming a coalition government with the right-wing Lega party, the 5 Star Movement had also included improvements to the bridge on a list of projects that could be scrapped subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Toninelli himself called for the “Gronda” project to be subjected to such an assessment earlier this month.
Multiple engineers and architects had sounded warnings about the bridge, which was built by Italian civil engineer Riccardo Morandi in the 1960s, using stay-cables embedded in reinforced concrete, making them difficult to inspect for corrosion.
Antonio Brencich, an engineer at the University of Genoa, sounded a warning about the bridge as recently as 2016. “It was affected by serious corrosion problems related to the technology that Morandi himself had patented, which he had not used anymore, and which proved to be disastrous,” he told Italian newspaper La Repubblica Tuesday. Genoese architect Diego Zoppi also told Italian news agency ANSA that the bridge was flawed in its construction.
Marco Bucci, the mayor of Genoa, described the bridge collapse to CNN as “not absolutely unexpected.”
Extensive repairs were carried out on the structure in the 1980s, 1990s and most recently in 2016. Maintenance was being carried out to consolidate the bridge at the time of the collapse, Autostrade said in a statement Tuesday. Spokesman Stefano Marigliani described the collapse as “unexpected and unpredictable,” and insisted the bridge “was constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required.”
Cover image: This general view taken on August 15, 2018, shows the Morandi motorway bridge after a section collapsed in the north-western Italian city of Genoa. (PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images)