A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed Tuesday in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 45 metres (nearly 150 feet) into a heap of rubble. The city’s mayor said at least 25 people were killed, although some people were found alive in the debris.
A huge section of the Morandi Bridge fell at midday over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete onto warehouses below. Photos from the Italian news agency ANSA showed a massive gap between two sections of the bridge.
The head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said 30-35 cars and three heavy trucks were on the 80-meter (260-foot) section of the bridge that collapsed.
Hundreds of firefighters and emergency officials were searching for survivors in the rubble with heavy equipment. Firefighters said at least two people were pulled alive from vehicles and taken by helicopter to a hospital.
Video of the collapse captured a man screaming: “Oh, God! Oh, God!” Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the edge and the tires of a tractor trailer in the rubble.
There was confusion over the exact death toll, which kept rising during the day.
Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci told Sky TG24 that the number of dead was above 25 people and that 11 injured were pulled from the rubble. Two other officials earlier put the death toll at 22 with 13 injured but said it was expected to rise.
Borrelli told a news conference in Rome that all the victims appeared to all have been in vehicles that fell from the bridge.
The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France, and northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.
The collapse also came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary. It’s the high point of the Italian summer holiday season, when most cities and business are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains. That means traffic could have been heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.
The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is just over a kilometre (.6 miles) long.
Borrelli said highway engineers were checking other parts of the bridge and that some areas were being evacuated as a precaution. He said they were still trying to figure out the reason for the collapse.
“You can see there are very big portions of the bridge (that collapsed). We need to remove all of the rubble to ascertain that all of the people have been reached,” he said, adding that more than 280 rescue workers and dogs units were on the scene.
“Operations are ongoing to extract people imprisoned below parts of the bridge and twisted metal,” he said.
Borrelli said there was no construction going on at the time on the bridge.
Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.
Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli called the collapse “an enormous tragedy.”
ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later in the day.
“We are following minute by minute the situation,” Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered his country’s help in a phone call with Conte.
It was the second deadly disaster on an Italian highway in as many weeks.
On Aug. 6, another major accident occurred on an Italian highway near the northern city of Bologna. A tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck and getting hit from behind. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.
This story corrects the height of the bridge to 45 metres (147 feet).