Genoa bridge collapse: Italy's governing populists wrote off safety fears as a children's 'fairy story' before disaster

The Five Star Movement has made political capital from opposing major infrastructure projects including improvements to the bridge

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
@joncstone
Wednesday 15 August 2018 17:54
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Genoa bridge: Aerial video shows aftermath of Italy motorway collapse

Italy’s governing populist party wrote off safety fears about the motorway bridge that collapsed on Tuesday killing dozens of people as a children’s “fairy story”, it has emerged.

The Five Star Movement (M5S), which has been leading the country’s government since earlier this year, has made political capital out of opposing major construction and infrastructure projects, which often draw opposition in Italy because they can be disruptive to local residents.

In 2013 a statement on the party’s website described warnings of “the imminent collapse of the Morandi Bridge” as a “favoletta”, an Italian word meaning a children’s fantasy tale or fairy story. The bridge collapsed on Tuesday killing at least 39 people and severing the country’s A10 motorway.

The statement has since been deleted from the party’s website, but a cached version is still visible online. It was drawn up in opposition to the “Gronda di Genova”, a major infrastructure project to improve the motorways in the city region that included work on the now collapsed bridge.

Some architects and engineers had warned that the bridge, built by Italian civil engineer Riccardo Morandi in the 1960s, suffered from fatal design flaws; reinforcement work was carried out on it in 2016 in an attempt to shore it up. A complete rebuild was not carried out to avoid disruption, however.

The statement on the M5S website accuses the regional president who backed the reinforcement work of not having read a public inquiry report into the state of the bridge, and says the party “asks ourselves what credibility those who support the great works can still have”.

Other infrastructure projects opposed by the M5S include a new high-speed rail line from Turin to the south France, which was also the subject of protests and which has been put under review by the incoming transport ministry and similarly described as a waste of money.

Improvements to the bridge were also included by the M5S on a list of infrastructure projects which could be scrapped subject to a review of the costs and benefits.

Bridges designed by the late civil engineer Mr Morandi tend to be unusual because the planner used reinforced concrete instead of steel cables for the stays of the bridge, and used relatively few cables compared to most other designs.

As of Wednesday around 250 firefighters from around Italy were still searching through the rubble of the bridge for survivors, with concern that the death toll could still rise further.

“We’re not giving up hope,” fire official Emanuele Giffi told the AFP news agency, vowing to work “around the clock until the last victim is secured”.

The country’s M5S deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, appeared to suggest contractors could be to blame.

“Those responsible for the tragedy in Genoa have a name and a surname, and they’re called Autostrade per l’Italia. For years it’s been said that private management would be better than that of the state,” he said on social media on Wednesday.

“And so today, we have one of the biggest dealers in Europe telling us that the bridge was safe and there was no worry of it collapsing. Autostrade had to maintain it but didn’t. It takes the highest road tolls in Europe and pays low taxes, moreover in Luxembourg.”

There has also been speculation about whether the 2016 work was carried out properly, with the widespread suspicion in Italy that some public infrastructure jobs could be compromised by organised crime involvement – though there is currently no evidence that this was the case for the bridge work.

The regional government of Liguria, in which the disaster took place, submitted a request to the national government for the ability to declare a 12-month state of emergency. The country’s prime minister granted the request on Wednesday evening.

Around 400 people have been evacuated from homes and businesses in the surrounding industrial area amid fears that other parts of the bridge could collapse.

Giuseppe Conte, the Italian M5S prime minister, is visiting the area today, while interior minister Matteo Salvini has said anyone found responsible for the disaster will be brought to justice.

The incident, which occurred during a violent and sudden storm, sent around 20 cars and three heavy trucks tumbling as an 80-metre stretch of elevated highway fell away.

The Autostrada 10 runs along the northwestern Italian coast, connecting Genoa with the city of Ventimiglia.

It is a component part of the wider European route E80 which stretches from Portugal to eastern Turkey, notably connecting northern Italy to the south of France.

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