Speculation mounts over Genoa bridge collapse

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'Immense tragedy' in Genoa

Lightning, engineering failure or aging infrastructure? Whatever the cause, Italy's government seeks to launch infrastructure projects that could bring it up against EU budget rules.

The Morandi Bridge — known to locals as Genoa's "Brooklyn Bridge" — was a key artery to the Italian Riviera and to France's southern coast. A huge section of the structure in the Italian city collapsed on Tuesday, sending cars and trucks plunging into heaps of rubble. Scores were killed and the death toll is expected to rise.

Lightning strike

Regional weather services had issued a storm warning for the morning of the collapse and the national police force said on Twitter the disaster happened amid a "violent cloudburst."

"The fact that there was reported to be a storm at the time may or may not be particularly relevant. In addition, ongoing work on the bridge may or may not be partly responsible for the collapse," said Ian Firth, former president of the Institution of Structural Engineers.

The civil protection agency could not confirm witness accounts that the bridge cracked after being hit by lightning.

The death toll from the collapse is expected to rise

Engineering failure

Two years ago Antonio Brencich, a professor specializing in reinforced concrete construction at Genoa University, called the bridge a "failure of engineering" during an interview. "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 local TV station Primocanale.

Aging infrastructure

The Morandi Bridge — named after its designer Riccardo Morandi — was built in 1967. Italy's CNR civil engineering society pointed out on Tuesday that the working lifespan of bridges built in the 1950s and '60s was some 50 years. Tens of thousands were built during those decades using reinforced concrete, the best known technology at the time.

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency officials were searching for survivors in the rubble with heavy equipment

Corrosion and fatigue

Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at Britain's University of Southampton, said maintenance issues and pressure from "dynamic loads" such as traffic and wind could have resulted in "fatigue damage in bridge components."

"As this reinforced and pre-stressed concrete bridge has been there for 50 years, it is possible that corrosion of tendons or reinforcement may be a contributory factor," said Firth.

Comments made by CNR suggest the bridge should have reached the end of its 50-year lifespan around last year. The bridge was undergoing reinforcement work at the time of the collapse and was under constant monitoring.

New investments

The cost of updating and reinforcing 1950s and '60s bridges is more than it would cost to destroy and rebuild them, CNR said. As such, it called for a major program to replace most of the bridges with new ones which would have a lifespan of 100 years.

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Tuesday's tragedy will likely reopen a debate on the need to invest billions on major infrastructure projects. Within hours of the bridge collapse, Italy's government said it showed the country needed to spend more to improve its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

"We should ask ourselves whether respecting these (budget) limits is more important than the safety of Italian citizens. Obviously for me it is not," said Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of the nationalist League party and interior minister in a power-sharing government.

Whatever the cause of the collapse, Salvini said he wanted the names of those to blame because a tragedy like this in 2018 was not acceptable. "They will have to pay, pay for everything, and pay a lot," he said.

kw/rc (AP, DPA, Reuters)

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Demolition begins

Experts have begun dismantling the remains of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, six months after its collapse. A 40-meter section of the motorway flyover was due to be cut, lowered and destroyed – an important step with "high symbolic value" for the town, according to Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Cars plunged into void

The 80-meter section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed on August 14 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.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Rescuers toiled through the night

Rescue workers scoured the wreckage through the night in hopes of finding more survivors. Alongside firefighters and emergency services, some 1,000 locals volunteered to help with the rescue efforts.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

900-ton concrete slab

Thousands of tonnes of steel, concrete and asphalt have already been removed to prepare for the demolition, but the eight-hour operation on Friday will see a 900-ton slab cut and destroyed. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninello have traveled to Genoa to oversee the beginning of the operation.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Renzo Piano replacement

Italy's most famous living architect Renzo Piano, a Genoa native widely known for the Pompidou Center in Paris, has designed the replacement bridge. It will feature 43 streetlamps in memory of the 43 killed in the collapse. At €202 million ($229 million), the bridge will be one of the most expensive in Europe. It is scheduled to open to traffic by April 2020.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

'Immense tragedy'

The bridge collapse killed 43 people and injured dozens more. Italy's transport minister Danilo Toninelli described the incident as an "immense tragedy." International leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the victims.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Children among those killed

The morning after the collapse, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that three children – aged 8, 12 and 13 — were among those killed.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

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 there was likely more traffic than usual.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Tragedy sparks 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.

Work begins demolishing collapsed Genoa bridge

Cause of collapse still unknown

While the precise reason behind the disaster is still unknown, investigators believe it could have been caused by lightning, an engineering failure or corrosion. Prosecutors have place 20 people under investigation, as well as the privately-owned highway operator Autostrade per l'Italia. The bridge had been in use for around 50 years, close to the recommended limit.

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