Italy starts process to revoke Genoa bridge operator's license

The government has sent a letter of complaint to the operator of the bridge that collapsed this week, killing dozens. Some experts have said revoking Autostrade per l'Italia's license could cost Italy billions of euros.

The Italian government has formally launched a procedure to revoke the license held by Autostrade per l'Italia to operate toll highways after a bridge the firm managed collapsed in Genoa this week, killing at least 38.

"Today the government...has formally sent to Autostrade per l'Italia the letter of complaint that launches the process for revoking the concession," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a statement.

The statement blamed Autostrade for the tragedy and said the firm "had the obligation to look after the ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of the motorway."

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Conte also said the government will strengthen monitoring and inspection powers at the Ministry for Infrastructure and would force private motorway operators to invest more of their profits in maintenance and safety.

Autostrade has 15 days to respond to the letter. But Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said the procedure for revoking the license would take "weeks or months."

Some sector experts estimate that the government may have to pay Autostrade up to €20 billion ($22.85 billion) in compensation if it cancels the license. The government denied that it would be required to compensate the company for its investments.

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A Genoa court will try to establish the exact cause of the collapse of the Morandi Bridge on a highway that links Genoa to the French border west of the Mediterranean port city.

Search for survivors

At the place of the tragedy, rescue teams used jackhammers and cranes to remove debris in a desperate bid to find survivors.

Hundreds of firefighters have been racing against time to find those missing.

"We are trying to find points where we can penetrate these incredibly heavy slabs. Then the earthmoving equipment moves in to create a passageway where the dogs can enter," firefighter Stefano Zanut said at the scene.

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Some coffins have already been placed in a large hall for the state funeral, and family members visited them on Friday.

State funeral

A public funeral for many of the victims will be held on Saturday at Genoa's convention center. The event will be led by the city's archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, and attended by President Sergio Mattarella and Conte.

Two local newspapers reported that relatives of 17 of the 38 confirmed dead plan to boycott the ceremony out of anger with authorities.

Some coffins have already been placed in a large hall, and family members visited them on Friday.

The Italian government has declared Saturday as a national day of mourning.

In Rome, the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain and the town hall building will turn off their night-time illumination as a mark of respect for the victims, local authorities said. 

ap/sms (Reuters, dpa)

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Cars plunge into void

A 100-meter section of Genoa's Morandi Bridge collapsed on Tuesday morning amid torrential downpours and violent storms. At least 35 cars and heavy vehicles are believed to have been on the section when it caved in, causing them to plunge some 45 meters into the void below.


Italy's busy motorway viaduct

The bridge over the northwestern port city was one of Italy's main viaducts, connecting the A10 motorway towards France and the A7 up to Milan. The incident also took place on the eve of Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday, meaning traffic was likely to have been busier than usual.


Rescuers scramble to find survivors

Less than an hour after the collapse, authorities had already indicated the number victims was likely to be in the dozens. Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said the bridge collapse appeared to be an "immense tragedy." International leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the victims.


Rescue efforts continue through the night

Rescue workers continued to scour the rubble and wreckage through the night with the hope of finding more survivors. Alongside firefighters and emergency services, another 1,000 locals volunteered to help in the rescue efforts. According to the Interior Ministry, as many as 16 survivors were found wounded beneath the rubble, including 12 in serious condition.


Death toll rises

By Wednesday morning, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the death toll in the collapse had risen to 35, including three children aged eight, 12 and 13 years old. Officials also warned that the number of dead was likely to rise further, as rescue workers began moving the largest pieces of debris.


Tragedy spurs political fallout

Italy's Giuseppe Conte interrupted his holiday to visit the scene of the collapse. While Conte reserved his words to praise the rescue workers, his ministers started pointing fingers. Transport Minister Toninelli said the company managing Italy's highways would have its contract revoked. However, his 5Star Movement party has been criticized for downplaying the need for infrastructure investments.


Cause of collapse still unknown

While the precise reason behind the disaster is still unknown, investigators believe it was potentially caused by a lightning strike, an engineering failure or corrosion. Italy's CNR civil engineering society has warned that the lifespan of bridges built during the 1950s and 60s was only about 50 years. The Morandi Bridge had been in use for more than five decades.


Apartment buildings in danger

Toninelli, who is also minister of infrastructure, has said the apartment buildings standing almost under or next to the bridge might have to be demolished. Some 630 people living in the apartment buildings have been evacuated. Toninelli said on Facebook that lodgings would be found for them.