Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared a 12-month state of emergency in the country’s northwestern port city of Genoa, where the collapse of a motorway bridge has so far claimed at least 39 lives.
“A cabinet meeting took place in which we have decreed a 12-month state of emergency and made available a first allocation worth 5.7 million dollars for the national emergencies fund,” Conte said in a press conference in Genoa on Wednesday.
The Italian prime minister said he had made the declaration following a request from regional authorities.
He said the number of victims was “increasing as the hours pass.”
Reports said Italian rescue workers continue to search through the rubble in the hopes of finding survivors.
A vast span of the viaduct collapsed amid torrential rain on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 meters onto railway tracks below.
According to authorities, the incident has so far killed 39 people, injuring 16 others, nine of them in serious condition.
The cause of the deadly incident still remains unclear but there has been heavy criticism of the private company Autostrade, which is currently in charge of operating and maintaining the Morandi bridge as well as much of Italy’s motorway network.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said the tragedy “could have been avoided,” stressing that, “Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn’t do it.”
Visiting the disaster scene, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli also said the private sector firm would have to contribute to the cost of the bridge’s reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the private sector manager of the bridge had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money [on the proper maintenance] they were supposed to” and its concession had to 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,” he said.
Autostrade, however, said it had conducted regular checks on the structure before the disaster occurred, and consulted with “companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections.”
The firm also released a statement dismissing accusations of underfunding the motorway infrastructure.
“In the last five years (2012-2017), the company’s investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over one billion euros a year,” it said.
The 51-year-old structure, designed by celebrated Italian engineer Riccardo Morandi, had been beset by problems since its construction in the 1960s, leading to costly maintenance work and drawing criticism from engineering experts.
The Tuesday incident — the deadliest of its kind in Europe since 2001 — is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy.