A vast span of the Morandi bridge caved in during a heavy rainstorm in the northern port city on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below. (Photo: AFP)
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 Wednesday with rescuers digging through mountains of crushed concrete.
A vast span of the Morandi bridge caved in during a heavy rainstorm in the northern port city on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.
At least 39 people are known to have died and 15 injured, according to Italy's Civil Protection service.
Children aged eight, 12 and 13 were among the dead, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday, adding that more people were still missing.
Three Chileans, who live in Italy, and four French nationals were also killed, according to their respective diplomatic services.
As the rescue efforts continued into a second night, hundreds of firefighters scoured the huge piles of concrete and twisted metal in a search deploying heavy lifting gear and sniffer dogs.
The tragedy has focused anger on the structural problems that have dogged the decades old Morandi bridge and the private sector firm Autostrade per l'Italia, which is currently in charge of operating and maintaining swathes of the country's motorways.
Italy's transport minister called for the company management to resign and announced the government had launched a move to revoke the company's contract and hit it with a fine of 150 million euros ($170 million).
Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, who arrived in Genoa on Wednesday morning, earlier said the tragedy "could have been avoided".
"Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn't do it," he said.
The firm, which said the bridge had been undergoing maintenance work, released a statement refuting accusations of underfunding of 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.
More than 200 metres (650 feet) of the 1960s bridge crumpled without warning as traffic crossed the busy stretch of motorway on Tuesday, in the deadliest disaster of its kind in Europe since 2001.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said a "catastrophe" had hit Genoa and the whole of Italy.
"Italians have the right to modern and efficient infrastructure that accompanies them safely through their everyday lives," Mattarella said.
'I went down with the car'
Aerial footage of the viaduct showed lines of abandoned vehicles stretching across the remaining section of the bridge, with one truck perched towards the edge of a gaping precipice just seconds away from disaster.
Survivors recounted the heart-stopping moment when the decades old structure buckled, tossing vehicles and hunks of concrete into the abyss.
Davide Capello, a former goalkeeper for Italian Serie A club Cagliari, plunged with his car but was unscathed.
"I was driving along the bridge, and at a certain point I saw the road in front of me collapse, and I went down with the car," he told TV news channel Sky TG24.
As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Moroccan truck driver, just managed to stop in time.
"I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran," he told AFP.
While around a dozen apartment blocks under the shadow of the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, the Liguria regional government said some 632 people have been evacuated.
Residents have not been allowed back into their homes and Genoa's mayor Marco Bucci said the buildings may not be protected if the surviving stretch of bridge is torn down.
'A tragedy waiting to happen'
The incident 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 a faltering economy.
Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims, saying the tragedy has "caused desperation among the population".
Genoa, home to half a million people, is located between the sea and the mountains of northwestern Italy.
Its rugged terrain means that motorways that run through the city and the surrounding area are characterised by long viaducts and tunnels.
The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines as well as an industrial zone and acts as the flyover of the busy A10 motorway, which links the Italian Riviera and the south of France.
The bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction, which has led to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
On Tuesday specialist engineering website "Ingegneri.info" published a piece that highlighted longstanding concerns over the bridge, calling it "a tragedy waiting to happen".
A source at Italy's transport ministry said authorities were looking initially at whether they can revoke the Autostrade contract for the A10 motorway, "then we will look at all other concessions".
Local people said they had also expressed concerns about the structure in the past.
"I live nearby and I cross the bridge every day on foot," said Ibou Toure, 23, a translator. "I was never sure of it, you'd always hear these noises whenever lorries were going over.
"When I heard it had collapsed, I wasn't surprised."