Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

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Authorities have widened their evacuation of the area surrounding the bridge to include some 630 people living near the highway bridge that was carved in two by the collapse of its mid-section during a violent storm.

The break sent huge slabs of concrete plummeting into two warehouses, some railroad tracks and a riverbed below the bridge.

Unknown numbers of other people are still missing, according to the Italian authorities.

Italy's government blamed the firm that operated the collapsed Genoa bridge for the disaster that has claimed at least 39 lives, as search operations entered a second night on Wednesday with rescuers digging through mountains of crushed concrete. Sixteen people are in hospital, 12 in a serious condition. State radio said among them was a woman who suffered smoke inhalation from a fire sparked by debris falling into her home and a Czech truck driver who suffered a chest injury.

The disaster, on a major interchange connecting Genoa and other northern cities with beaches in eastern Liguria into France, has focused attention on Italy's ageing infrastructure, particularly its concrete bridges and viaducts built in the postwar boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli called on Autostrade's leadership to resign, accusing the company of putting profits ahead of safety.

Hundreds of rescue workers and canine crews were on the scene, using heavy equipment and dogs to search for possible survivors.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said his government won't wait until prosecutors finish investigating the collapse to withdraw the concession from the main private company that maintains Italy's highways, Atlantia.

Autostrade insisted that the bridge had been "constantly monitored" and refuted accusations that it had not invested enough in maintenance.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) faced scrutiny Wednesday because in 2013 its Genoa activists had opposed a planned road bypass.

Indeed, a partial collapse of the Gennevilliers bridge in Hauts-de-Seine in May 2018 caused the A15 road to be closed for several weeks - although no-one was injured or killed.

But rescuers have said there is little hope of finding more survivors in the rubble of the 200m span that was carrying dozens of vehicles when it gave way.

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 economic stagnation.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister, said it was hard to tell how many people were still unaccounted for simply because they were on holiday or "under the rubble".

The Morandi bridge, which was inaugurated in 1967, is 90-metres high and just over 1km long. The collapse occurred in an industrial area.

A recent report from the minister of Transport - undertaken before the Italy disaster - suggested that of 12,000 bridges in France, nearly a third could benefit from fix work.

"I've had some time to calm down and am now trying to understand what happened, but my wife and our friends are very shocked", Pierami said.

Antonio Brencich, a professor of construction at the University of Genoa, said the design lent itself to swift corrosion and the bridge was in constant need of maintenance.

According to newspaper reports dating back to 2006, the government and highways company had considered demolishing and rebuilding the structure as part of a project to build the "gronda" highway bypass.