The Morandi bridge is part of the A10 toll motorway and is a major road link between Italy and France. During a period of heavy rainfall on Tuesday morning, a section of the bridge unexpectedly gave way. Dozens of vehicles fell 45m (148ft) onto the rail track beneath them. Amongst the casualties were families and holiday goers.
For us in the UK, the incident provokes harrowing memories of the Grenfell tower disaster in London last summer. It offers another example of the human cost of government and corporate negligence.
What has been the response of the authorities?
A rescue operation involving 250 firefighters has sought to rescue potential survivors from the rubble, using sniffer dogs and climbing gear. They have also evacuated in excess of 400 people whose homes are at risk in the local area. However, rescuers are now saying there is little chance of finding more survivors, with more than 48 hours having passed.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a 12-month state of emergency in the region and made €5m available from central government funds. He also announced a national day of mourning “to coincide with the funerals of the victims”. However, these actions will do little to curb the growing anger within Italy.
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As you’d expect, people are demanding a full inquest into what happened and why. The BBC reports that “the Genoa Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into possible negligent homicide”.
Were there signs the bridge was vulnerable before the collapse?
Yes, lots. The bridge was constructed in the 1960s and like most of Italy’s infrastructure, is in urgent need of investment and renewal. Iain Martin described the sorry state of urban Italy in his piece for Reaction on Tuesday...
This is the 5th bridge collapse in Italy in five years. The Prime Minister has said there will be a nationwide review of infrastructure following Tuesday’s tragedy. Why wasn’t this done after the first bridge collapse?
What’s more, there had been warnings about the safety of the bridge as recently as 2016. At a public hearing in 2012, the BBC reports that “a local industry confederation official spoke of the collapse of the Morandi bridge ‘in 10 years’”. Andrew Neil, the BBC Political Presenter, tweeted an update on this story this morning, revealing that local 5 Star leaders dismissed this concern as “a fable” and resisted attempts to upgrade the bridge.
Who is likely to be held responsible?
Attention has focused on Autostrade per l’Italia, the company in charge of much of Italy’s motorway network, including the Morandi bridge. However, Genoa city council also looks set to shoulder a significant burden of the blame. Responsibility may even extend right up to central government.
Interestingly, Italy’s internal minister suggested that EU fiscal rules may have curbed necessary infrastructure investment, an accusation that the EU has swiftly hit back against, outlining the significant European funding that Italy receives. It is unclear whether this is a sign of the Italian government trying to deflect attention from its own culpability, or a cynical, populist attempt to make political capital out of the disaster.