It came seemingly without warning, and has left a shocked and devastated nation demanding answers. Now officials are scrambling to find out how Genoa’s Morandi Bridge collapsed overnight killing at least 30 people as it sent dozens of vehicles tumbling into a heap of concrete and twisted steel.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte called it an immense tragedy ... inconceivable in a modern system like ours, a modern country.
The disaster, on a major interchange connecting Genoa and other northern cities with beaches in eastern Liguria and into France, focused attention on Italy's creaking infrastructure, particularly its concrete bridges and viaducts built in the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s.
Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the collapse was unacceptable and that if negligence played a role whoever made a mistake must pay.
Early speculation focused on the structural weakness of the span. At least 30 cars and three heavy vehicles were on the 80m section of the span that collapsed during torrential rain.
The Italian CNR civil engineering society said that 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 bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s. Updating and reinforcing the bridges would be more expensive than destroying and rebuilding them with technology that could last a century.
They cited previous accidents: a bridge that fell in April 2017 in the northern province of Cuneo, crushing a Carabinieri police car after the officers and driver had barely managed to get away in time; and an overpass that in the northern city of Lecco that collapsed under exceptional weight, crushing a car and killing the driver.
The design of the bridge has been criticized in the past. Antonio Brencich, a professor specializing in reinforced concrete construction at the University of Genoa, called the span a failure of engineering in an interview in 2016.
That bridge is wrong. Sooner or later it will have to be replaced. I do not know when. But there will be a time when the cost of maintenance will be higher than a replacement, he told Italian media Primocanale.
The transport minister, Toninelli, said the company that has the concession to operate that section of highway said its maintenance on the bridge was up to date and no work was being done at the time of the collapse. But he added that they were about to launch a 25m Euros bidding process for significant safety work on the bridge.
There has not been sufficient maintenance and checks, and safety work for many bridges and viaducts and bridges in Italy constructed — almost all — during the 1960s, he said.