At least 20 dead in Italian motorway bridge disaster

This photo released by the Italian firefighters, rescuers work among the rubble of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy. (Vigili Del Fuoco via AP)
This photo released by the Italian firefighters, rescuers work among the rubble of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy. (Vigili Del Fuoco via AP)

At least 20 people have died after a bridge on a main road linking Italy with France collapsed in Genoa during a storm, sending vehicles plunging nearly 150ft into a heap of rubble below.

A huge section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed over an industrial zone in the north-west Italian port city, sending tonnes of twisted steel and concrete debris onto warehouses below.

(To launch the gallery of photos from the disaster click on the icon in the bottom left corner of the image above or on the link, also above).

There was initial confusion over the exact death toll and officials are still searching for people in the rubble after the incident at noon local time (11am BST). Firefighters said two people were pulled alive from vehicles in the debris and taken to hospital by helicopter.

The head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, told reporters at a news conference in Rome that the collapse left 20 people dead and 13 injured. He said all the victims appeared to have been in vehicles which plunged from the bridge.

Earlier, an Italian transport official, Edoardo Rixi, had said that 22 people were killed and eight others were hurt in the collapse.

Mr Borrelli said between 30 and 35 cars and three heavy trucks were caught up as a 260ft stretch of the bridge collapsed.

He said highway engineers are checking the safety of the bridge at other points and that some areas are being evacuated as a precaution.

Mr Borrelli added that they are still investigating the cause of the disaster.

“You can see there are very big portions of the bridge (that collapsed),” he said.

“We need to remove all of the rubble to ascertain that all of the people have been reached.”

He added that more than 280 rescue workers and sniffer dogs units are at the scene.

“Operations are ongoing to extract people imprisoned below parts of the bridge and twisted metal.”

Video captured the sound of a man screaming: “Oh God! Oh, God!” Other images showed a green truck which stopped just short of the gaping hole in the bridge, and the tyres of a tractor among the rubble.

Firefighters said they were worried about gas pipes exploding in the area as a result of the collapse.

The ANSA news agency said authorities suspected a structural weakness had caused the collapse, although there was no immediate explanation for what had happened.

Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, called the collapse “an enormous tragedy”.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later.

Interior minister Matteo Salvini said some 200 firefighters were responding to the accident.

He said on Twitter: “We are following minute by minute the situation of the bridge collapse in Genoa.”

The disaster occurred on a major road that connects Italy to France, and links northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.

It came on the eve of a major Italian holiday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The day marks the high point of the country’s summer holiday season when most cities and businesses are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains, meaning traffic was heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.

The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that heads for France and the A7 route that continues north towards Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is 148ft high, and around half a mile long.

The collapse of the bridge comes eight days after another major accident on an Italian highway, near the northern city of Bologna.

In that case, a tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck on the road before it was hit from behind itself. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.