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Italian Officials Say Dozens Of People May Have Died In Bridge Collapse


Italians are mourning the victims of a devastating collapse of a heavily trafficked highway bridge over the city of Genoa Tuesday. Local police say 35 people were killed, but there are fears that death toll could rise. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that firemen worked through the night lifting rubble and looking for survivors.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Today's headlines describe the bridge as an ailing and fragile giant. Images on TV, websites and newspaper front pages showed the gaping absence of a 600-foot-long section of the Morandi Bridge. A hundred and 60 feet below, hunks of reinforced concrete lie on the riverbed, railway line and warehouses. Officials say some 35 cars and three trucks were crossing at the time of the collapse and are buried under the rubble. A lone truck can be seen at the very edge of one end of the bridge that's still standing. The unknown driver was one of the lucky ones.

The rescue effort is similar to those after earthquakes, with firemen carefully lifting heavy concrete slabs and cutting through steel to find survivors and extract the dead. The bridge soared high over densely inhabited Genoa. It was built in 1967 to link east and west of the port city, tucked between the sea and high-rising mountains. The media are filled with speculation on the causes of the collapse, from eyewitness reports of lightning hitting the bridge during the heavy rainstorm just before the collapse to poor maintenance to the unforeseen vagaries of fate.

State-run RAI TV interviewed several workers from a nearby factory who said that, for years, they had always seen scaffolding somewhere on the bridge and that there had been constant repair work. Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli called for the immediate resignation of senior managers of the company that operates the bridge. He said the company should be stripped of its contract to manage the highway. It will take weeks and perhaps months to determine the exact cause of the collapse.

Meanwhile, there's widespread agreement that traffic had far exceeded the bridge's capacity when it was built half a century ago. Some 5,000 trucks crossed the Morandi daily, along with thousands more commuters and vacationers traveling on the highway linking France and Genoa. World-famous architect Renzo Piano told the daily la Repubblica that his native city is a fragile place, where the movement of goods and people should shift to rail and sea transport and no longer be exclusively dependent on wheels on highways.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.


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.