Italian prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the Genoa bridge collapse, which left at least 38 people dead on Aug. 14.
Engineering experts are warning that “tens of thousands” of structures in Italy are at risk after the disaster, which was described by one witness as an “apocalypse.”
While experts say it’s too early to definitively say what caused the bridge to disintegrate, they pointed to its troubled design and maintenance history.
Meanwhile, officials have rushed to blame the bridge’s private operator, demanding resignations, and are moving to strip its toll concession.
‘The Scene is Apocalyptic’
Vehicles with horrified occupants plummeted onto a riverbed, a railway, and two warehouses when a 650-foot portion of the Morandi motorway bridge in northern Italy disintegrated.
Footage of the August 14 tragedy, with the anguished cries of an onlooker—“Oh God! Oh God!”—showed a flash of light as the bridge crumbled out of view.
“The scene is apocalyptic, like a bomb had hit the bridge,” Matteo Pucciarelli, a journalist for the Italian daily La Repubblica, told the Guardian. “There are about 200 rescuers working continuously. People are in shock.”
Rescuers worked through the night, scouring the tons of concrete and steel wreckage for survivors.
“We’re not giving up hope, we’ve already saved a dozen people from under the rubble,” a fire official, Emanuele Giffi, told AFP. “We’re going to work round the clock until the last victim is secured.”
So far four people have been pulled alive from cars found in the mangled ruins.
The Blame Game
Italy’s deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said in a Facebook post on Aug. 15, “Those responsible for the tragedy in Genoa have a name and a surname, and they’re called Autostrade per l’Italia.”
Interior minister Matteo Salvini said bridge operator Autostrade had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money they were supposed to” and its concession should be revoked.
“Imposing the highest penalties possible and making sure that those responsible for the dead and the injured pay up for any damages and crimes is the very least,” Salvini said.
Danilo Toninelli, the transport minister, said the collapse was “unacceptable” and that if negligence was a factor “whoever made a mistake must pay.”
Autostrade’s Genoa area director, Stefano Marigliani, called the collapse “unexpected and unpredictable.”
“Queues of cars and the volume of traffic cause intense decay of the Morandi viaduct structure on a daily basis,” Marigliani said.
“The bridge was constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required,” he said. “There was no reason to consider the bridge dangerous.”
The transport minister said that while the maintenance work was up to date, Autostrade was about to launch a 20 million euro ($23 million) bidding process for major safety improvements to the bridge.
The tender would have covered strengthening of the bridge’s pier cables, including those of pier nine, the one that collapsed on Aug. 14.
‘A Tragedy Waiting to Happen’
The 51-year-old Genoa bridge, designed by the renowned Italian engineer Riccardo Morandi, was fraught with “structural doubts.”
That is how an article in the specialist engineering website Ingegneri.info referred to the bridge, calling it “a tragedy waiting to happen”.
In the bridge’s design, Morandi used a patented pre-stressed reinforced concrete technology, which later proved problematic.
Antonio Brencich, a professor of reinforced concrete construction at the University of Genoa, told Radio Capitale that Morandi’s technology “was affected by extremely serious corrosion problems” and was over time shown “to be a failure.”
Guido De Roeck, professor emeritus at KU Leuven, a university in Belgium, told VRT news a vulnerable point of Morandi’s design was the “limited number of cables, not steel cables, but pretensioned concrete cables, which are subject to corrosion.”
But while rusting metal parts are by definition the weakest link in a construction like the Morandi’s, it is very unlikely that corrosion bad enough to cause a collapse would have gone unnoticed, according to Agathoklis Giaralis, deputy director of the University of London’s Civil Engineering Structures Research Centre, who spoke to the Daily Mail.
“I would say that most probably something went wrong with the foundation or supporting ground rather than with the pier, the deck, or the cables,” he said.
Ian Firth, former president of The Institution of Structural Engineers, told the Daily Mail that “it is too early to say what caused the tragic collapse, but as this reinforced and prestressed concrete bridge has been there for 50 years it is possible that corrosion of tendons or reinforcement may be a contributory factor.”
‘Tens of Thousands Need To Be Replaced’
Alarms are being raised about the integrity of other structures in Italy.
Transport minister Danilo Toninelli said that many structures in Italy suffer from insufficient safety checks.
“There has not been sufficient maintenance and checks, and safety work for many bridges and viaducts and bridges in Italy constructed—almost all—during the 1960s,” he said.
Giuseppe Conte, the Prime Minister, said “all infrastructure” across the country needed to be double-checked. “We must not allow another tragedy like this to happen again,” he added.
“The Italy built in the 1950s and 1960s is in urgent need of renovation. The risk of collapses is underestimated, the works built at that time are coming to an age when they are at risk,” Diego Zoppi, former president of the Genoa branch of the order of architects, told reporters on Tuesday, the Telegraph reported.
Italian civil engineering association CNR reportedly said structures as old as the collapsed Morandi bridge had exceeded their lifespan.
Tens of thousands of bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s should be repaired or replaced.
CNR said updating and reinforcing the bridges would in many cases be more expensive than demolishing them and building new structures from scratch, the Telegraph reported.
From The Epoch Times