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Italian Bridge Partially Collapses, Sending Vehicles Crashing Below


Maybe you've seen the images already this morning - images out of Genoa, Italy, where a bridge that towers over buildings around it is missing a vast section of the span. The bridge goes out into space and then suddenly stops because the rest of that span collapsed this morning, killing, at least 22 people, according to a transportation official. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is covering this story. Hi, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: Would you just describe this bridge? And what's the first sense of what happened to it?

POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know. It was around noon local time, and there was a torrential rainstorm. The Morandi bridge - it's called the Morandi bridge - just gave way over a riverbed and railway tracks. And it's in a densely inhabited area. Italian state-run TV showed images, which you've probably also seen. It's a 200-yard-long section of the bridge. It collapsed apparently after a central pylon gave way.

Italian officials say some 10 vehicles were crossing the bridge at the time of the collapse. Italian TV just reported that two people have been extracted from the rubble and are - been taken to hospitals. Helicopters are flying over the rubble. And hundreds of rescue workers and firefighters are at the scene that the Italian transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, described as what seems like an immense tragedy.

INSKEEP: Yeah, you mentioned a central pylon. I just want to describe this bridge. This is one of those simpler bridges, really, that just has supports directly underneath it, and it seems that those supports were the things that collapsed, right?

POGGIOLI: Right. It's essentially what's called a viaduct. And it runs over shopping centers, factories, homes, the general Milan railway line and Polcevera river. The TV images showed the central pylon that had just collapsed in the rubble in the riverbed. Now, Genoa, it's a really unusual Italian city. It's a major urban area crossed by many, very, very ugly elevated highways that soar over these very densely inhabited areas. And it was built in the 1960s, this bridge.

INSKEEP: Wow. Having lived in Italy as long as you have, Sylvia, I'm sure that you and many other people are asking themselves, haven't I crossed that bridge at some point?

POGGIOLI: I have indeed. Not recently, but I have definitely in the past. And I was always amazed at - you know, it's not a nice sensation. Let me tell you. It's - cars are going so fast, and you're just over the city. It's a very disturbing sensation. At least for me, it was.

INSKEEP: So we have this bridge collapse. We know that the pylon underneath it gave way. We don't know yet why it would be, and I'm sure that's going to be a long process finding it out. And we're going to have to be direct about what we know and we don't know. You said about 10 vehicles seem to have gone down with the bridge. And isn't this the second major highway incident in Italy in recent days?

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. Just last week, two trucks, one transporting inflammable materials, collided on the highway near Bologna, another very heavily trafficked area in the summer vacation time. There was a massive explosion that caused the partial collapse of the highway bridge, with fire spreading to a car parked below where numerous cars caught fire and exploded.

INSKEEP: OK. Sylvia, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reporting this morning from Italy, where the main news is out of Genoa, where a bridge collapsed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.