Italy bridge: State of emergency follows Genoa disaster

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Media caption,

Nicola and Lisa Henton-Mitchell narrowly escaped the Genoa bridge collapse with their two children.

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has declared a 12-month state of emergency in the Liguria region in response to the motorway bridge collapse in Genoa.

He also said he would make an initial €5m ($5.7m) available from central funds to the north-western region.

The regional government had requested the action following Tuesday's disaster, which left 39 people dead.

There has been anger and disbelief in Italy that such a vital structure could have simply given way.

Rescuers have said there is little hope of finding more survivors underneath the Morandi bridge, where dozens of vehicles fell from a height of 45m (148ft) in Tuesday morning's collapse.

The cause is not yet known but there has been heavy criticism of the private company responsible for operating the bridge.

What is the latest at the scene?

Hundreds of firefighters worked overnight and throughout Wednesday with lifting gear, climbing equipment and sniffer dogs to try to locate survivors and bodies.

More than 400 people have been evacuated from the area. Residents of housing blocks under one pillar were ready to move back, but were then told it was cracking and that their homes were at risk.

Media caption,

Parts of the bridge can be seen collapsing

There are 15 people being treated in hospital, nine of them in a serious condition, according to the local prefecture.

What did the PM say?

Giovanni Toti, governor of Liguria, had asked the government in Rome to declare a state of emergency in the region.

Following a cabinet meeting held in the city of Genoa, Prime Minister Conte said: "We agreed to his request to declare a state of emergency in Ligura for 12 months due to the events of yesterday morning... and we decided to release €5m from the national emergency fund for immediate needs."

He announced a national day of mourning would take place, which the government wanted "to coincide with the funerals of the victims".

He added: "These are unacceptable tragedies that should not happen in a modern society. This government will do everything to prevent such tragedies from happening again."

Mr Conte confirmed the government's intention to begin proceedings to revoke the contract of private sector firm Autostrade per l'Italia, which was in charge of operating and maintaining the bridge and the A10 motorway it was part of.

The highways firm defended its maintenance record, saying it had checked the bridge every three months using highly specialised techniques.

Who were the victims?

They included families in their cars, people going to work, and people going on holiday.

Most of them were Italians, but the French foreign ministry said four of its nationals had also died.

Among the dead were a family of three - Roberto Robbiano, 44, Ersilia Piccinino, 41, and their young son Samuel.

What have survivors been saying?

One of the most compelling testimonies came from Davide Capello, 33, a former goalkeeper for Serie A side Cagliari.

His car fell 30m in the collapse, but came to rest in a pocket between the columns and he survived.

"I was able to get out... I don't know how my car wasn't crushed. It seemed like a scene from a film, it was the apocalypse," he said.

Valentina Galbusera, 43, a doctor, told La Stampa: "The bridge fell in front of me, not even 20m away, I avoided the collapse by only a couple of seconds. I felt the bridge was shaking and I tried to reverse. Then I got out of the car and started running."

What went wrong at Morandi?

It's not yet clear. There was torrential rainfall at the time.

A huge tower and sections of the bridge - measuring about 200m - collapsed on to railway lines, a river and a warehouse.

The motorway operator said work to shore up the bridge's foundation was being carried out at the time.

Autostrade per l'Italia said in 2011 the bridge had been suffering from degradation due to heavy traffic.

The Genoa Public Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into possible negligent homicide. The head prosecutor blamed "human error".

Were safety warnings ignored?

The state of the bridge and the responses to the collapse throw light on what has been a long-standing debate about Italian infrastructure.

This was the fifth bridge collapse in Italy in five years, according to Corriere Della Sera.

There have been previous reports and comments questioning how the Morandi bridge was built and how long it could last.

In December 2012, the Genoa city council discussed the state of the bridge at a public hearing into how to expand the local transport infrastructure. A local industry confederation official spoke of the collapse of the Morandi bridge "in 10 years".

In 2016, structural engineer Antonio Brencich spoke of "errors in this bridge".

The issue of transport in the area is now critical, given that the bridge was a major arterial route for an important port city.

The Morandi bridge, built in the 1960s, stands on the A10 toll motorway, an important conduit for goods traffic from local ports which also serves the Italian Riviera and south-east coast of France.

The prime minister has said all infrastructure across the country will be double-checked in the wake of the collapse.