Firefighters have worked into the night searching for survivors and bodies amid the rubble of a motorway bridge that collapsed in the northern Italian port city of Genoa.
At least 26 people are dead and dozens more injured after the 50-metre-high section of the bridge crashed down with as many as 35 vehicles driving on it, during a sudden and violent storm.
The bridge landed on the roofs of two warehouses, plunging huge slabs of reinforced concrete onto train tracks and into a riverbed.
More than 400 people were evacuated from 11 buildings located near or below the still-standing parts of the bridge, the city said.
The collapse appears not to have killed anyone under the road but only those who were driving on it, the civil protection agency said earlier.
Firefighters said they could still hear voices from under the rubble throughout the night.
“We are still trying to extract survivors from the rubble,” Genoa police official Alessandra Bucci said.
“We hope to find more people alive.”
‘Not giving up hope’
Rescuers scouring through the wreckage, strewn among shrubland and train tracks, said there were “dozens” of victims as rescue helicopters winched survivors on stretchers from the ruined bridge.
Cars and trucks were tangled in the rubble and nearby buildings damaged by vast chunks of concrete, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“We’re not giving up hope, we’ve already saved a dozen people from under the rubble,” a fire official, Emanuele Giffi, told AFP.
Almost 1am in Genoa & rescuers who’ve come from across Italy are still sifting through rubble trying to find survivors. 4 lane bridge collapsed 13 hours ago. Reports 7 people have been pulled out alive. @7NewsSydney pic.twitter.com/YMvCfB9BkD
— Sarah Greenhalgh (@GreenhalghSarah) August 14, 2018
“We’re going to work round the clock until the last victim is secured.”
As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, 39-year-old Afifi Idriss, a Morrocan lorry driver, just managed to come to a halt in time.
“I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran,” he told AFP.
The green lorry was still on the bridge late evening, stopped just short of the now yawning gap.
‘Unacceptable’ way to die
Aerial footage showed more than 200 metres of the viaduct, known locally as the Morandi bridge, completely destroyed.
“I’m following with the utmost apprehension what is happening in Genoa and what looks like it could be an immense tragedy,” Transport and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter.
Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of the nationalist League party in the coalition government, vowed to hold those responsible for the disaster accountable.
“I have gone over this bridge hundreds of times, and I commit to digging and finding out who is responsible for an unacceptable tragedy because it’s not possible that in 2018 you can work and die in these conditions,” he said.
The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, although weather services in the Liguria region had issued a storm warning for Tuesday morning (local time).
The national motorways body said on its website “maintenance works were being carried out on the base of the viaduct”, adding a crane had been moved on site to assist the work.
‘I wasn’t surprised’
The incident, the deadliest of its kind in Europe since 2001, 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 a faltering economy.
Genoa, home to half a million people, is located between the sea and the mountains of northwestern Italy.
Its rugged terrain means motorways that run through the city and the surrounding area are characterised by long viaducts and tunnels.
One factory, immediately next to one of the viaduct’s support columns, was virtually empty on Tuesday on the eve of a national holiday and seems to have sustained minimal damage.
Translator Ibou Toure, 23, said he was always sceptical of the bridge’s stability.
“I live nearby and I cross the bridge every day on foot,” he said.
“I was never sure of it, you’d always hear these noises whenever lorries were going over. When I heard it had collapsed, I wasn’t surprised.”