At least 22 people are dead after a motorway bridge collapsed in the Italian city of Genoa, and the death toll will rise, Italian Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi says.
A section of the Morandi bridge crashed down on Tuesday from a height of about 50 metres over a river and some railroad tracks and buildings.
It collapsed about 11.30am local time during torrential rainfall, the local fire brigade said.
Amalia Tedeschi, a firefighter, told RAI TV that some 20 vehicles had been involved in Tuesday’s collapse.
She said two people had been pulled alive from vehicles in the rubble that fell into an industrial area below the bridge and were being transported by helicopter to a hospital.
Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.
Photos published by ANSA on its website showed a huge gulf between two sections of the bridge.
Video captured the sound of a man screaming: “Oh God! Oh, God!” as the tragedy unfolded.
Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the gaping hole in the bridge.
The tyres of a tractor trailer could be seen in the rubble.
Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, called the collapse “an enormous tragedy.”
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said some 200 firefighters were responding to the accident.
“We are following minute by minute the situation of the bridge collapse in Genoa,” Salvini said on Twitter.
The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France and other vacation resorts on the eve of a major Italian holiday on Wednesday, Ferragosto.
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The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan.
ANSA said authorities suspected that a structural weakness caused the collapse.
History of collapses
Genoa is located between the sea and the mountains of northwestern Italy.
Its rugged terrain means that motorways that run through the city and the surrounding area are characterised by long viaducts and tunnels.
The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, overspans dozens of railway lines as well as an industrial zone housing several factories.
One factory, immediately next to one of the viaducts support columns, was virtually empty on Tuesday due to a national holiday, and seems to have sustained minimal damage.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter that France was “by Italy’s side in this tragedy and is ready to offer all necessary support”.
Tuesday’s incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of economic stagnation.
In March last year a couple were killed when a motorway overpass collapsed on their car near Ancona on the country’s Adriatic coast.
A pensioner died in October 2016 when his car was crushed by a collapsing bridge over the SS36 dual carriageway between Milan and Lecco.
That incident was blamed on bureaucratic bungling which led to a fatal delay in the bridge being closed after it was reported to be showing significant cracks.