Spotlight falls on Autostrade per l’Italia over maintenance of bridge that collapsed on August 14, killing 39
Italy demands €500m euros from operator of Genoa bridge
Serious questions were being raised Friday in Italy over how one of Genoa’s main motorways gave way without warning on Tuesday, causing the death of 39 people.
The Genoa Public Prosecutor's Office blamed "human error" for the collapse and opened an investigation into possible negligent homicide.
The cause of the structural failure is not yet known. Initial accounts of heavy rain or a lightning strike being responsible for the collapse have now largely been dismissed.
Engineering experts however noted that corrosion and weather could have been triggering factors in the collapse of the 51-year-old bridge, despite ongoing maintenance work.
The private sector company Autostrade per l’Italia - which is responsible for operating and maintaining the Morandi bridge and the A10 motorway it was part of - has come under fire from the government and commentators.
Italian PM Giuseppe Conte confirmed that his government will begin proceedings to revoke the contract of Autostrade per l’Italia, an announcement that caused the company’s shares to plunge 30 per cent on Thursday.
"These are unacceptable tragedies that should not happen in a modern society. This government will do everything to prevent such tragedies from happening again,” he added.
The populist government has accused Autostrade per L'Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance - a claim the company denies - and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to €500 million ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster. "If we've put up five million euros, they should offer 500 million," he said. "There needs to be an immediate, concrete and tangible signal for these families: they should put their hands on their hearts and in their wallets."
The firm responded to accusations saying it had checked the bridge every three months using highly specialised techniques.
Mr Conte also declared a 12-month state of emergency in the Liguria region and said he would make an initial €5 million available from central funds.
A national day of mourning will take place on Saturday, to coincide with the funerals of the victims.
The collapse of Genoa’s “Brooklyn bridge”, as it was known, was the fifth bridge collapse in Italy in five years - which points to the dire state of Italy’s infrastructure system.
In December 2010, the Genoa city council had discussed the state of the bridge and a public hearing was held to discuss the expansion of the local transport infrastructure.
Andrea Mariotto, professor in territorial management at Venice’s IUAV university, told The National that the bridge’s structural integrity had never come into question during the 2009 public hearing.
“We never thought it could be at risk,” Mr Mariotto said. “But ten years are a long time and things may change.”
But there had been expert reviews questioning how the Morandi bridge was built and how long it could last. One engineer and professor at Genoa’s university, Antonio Brencich, rose to fame in the past few days for having predicted the fall of the bridge.
“The Morandi bridge is referred to as a masterpiece of engineering, in reality it is a bankruptcy,” Mr Brencich had told local media two years ago. “There will be a time when maintenance costs will exceed those of reconstruction, and then we will have to proceed with the replacement.”
Five Star Movement founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has been highly criticised for dismissing these concerns as “a tale” at the time of the public hearing, as shown in video that resurfaced on Italian news channels and social media following the bridge collapse.
The head of Genoa's public prosecutor's office, Francesco Cozzi, said the "file for negligent multiple homicide and disaster” would be against unknown persons as responsibilities were still unclear.
In the meantime, friends and relatives of the victims are asking for justice. Fiodor Novelli, 29, was a co-worker of Mirko Vicini, 31, who was on duty under the bridge when it collapsed.
He told The National that Vicini had just found a stable job with the environmental company AMIU and dreamed of becoming a truck driver. “I want justice for Mirko, a colleague and a friend,” Mr Novelli said. “It is unjust to die like this aged 31.”