Italy starts process to revoke Genoa bridge operator's license
The government has sent a letter of complaint to the operator of the bridge that collapsed this week, killing dozens. Some experts have said revoking Autostrade per l'Italia's license could cost Italy billions of euros.
The Italian government has formally launched a procedure to revoke the license held by Autostrade per l'Italia to operate toll highways after a bridge the firm managed collapsed in Genoa this week, killing at least 38.
"Today the government...has formally sent to Autostrade per l'Italia the letter of complaint that launches the process for revoking the concession," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a statement.
The statement blamed Autostrade for the tragedy and said the firm "had the obligation to look after the ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of the motorway."
Conte also said the government will strengthen monitoring and inspection powers at the Ministry for Infrastructure and would force private motorway operators to invest more of their profits in maintenance and safety.
Autostrade has 15 days to respond to the letter. But Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said the procedure for revoking the license would take "weeks or months."
Some sector experts estimate that the government may have to pay Autostrade up to €20 billion ($22.85 billion) in compensation if it cancels the license. The government denied that it would be required to compensate the company for its investments.
A Genoa court will try to establish the exact cause of the collapse of the Morandi Bridge on a highway that links Genoa to the French border west of the Mediterranean port city.
Search for survivors
At the place of the tragedy, rescue teams used jackhammers and cranes to remove debris in a desperate bid to find survivors.
Hundreds of firefighters have been racing against time to find those missing.
"We are trying to find points where we can penetrate these incredibly heavy slabs. Then the earthmoving equipment moves in to create a passageway where the dogs can enter," firefighter Stefano Zanut said at the scene.
A public funeral for many of the victims will be held on Saturday at Genoa's convention center. The event will be led by the city's archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, and attended by President Sergio Mattarella and Conte.
Two local newspapers reported that relatives of 17 of the 38 confirmed dead plan to boycott the ceremony out of anger with authorities.
Some coffins have already been placed in a large hall, and family members visited them on Friday.
The Italian government has declared Saturday as a national day of mourning.
In Rome, the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain and the town hall building will turn off their night-time illumination as a mark of respect for the victims, local authorities said.
ap/sms (Reuters, dpa)
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Experts have begun dismantling the remains of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, six months after its collapse. A 40-meter section of the motorway flyover was due to be cut, lowered and destroyed – an important step with "high symbolic value" for the town, according to Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci.
The 80-meter section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed on August 14 amid torrential downpours and violent storms. At least 35 cars and heavy vehicles are believed to have been on the section when it caved in, causing them to plunge some 45 meters.
Rescue workers scoured the wreckage through the night in hopes of finding more survivors. Alongside firefighters and emergency services, some 1,000 locals volunteered to help with the rescue efforts.
Thousands of tonnes of steel, concrete and asphalt have already been removed to prepare for the demolition, but the eight-hour operation on Friday will see a 900-ton slab cut and destroyed. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninello have traveled to Genoa to oversee the beginning of the operation.
Italy's most famous living architect Renzo Piano, a Genoa native widely known for the Pompidou Center in Paris, has designed the replacement bridge. It will feature 43 streetlamps in memory of the 43 killed in the collapse. At €202 million ($229 million), the bridge will be one of the most expensive in Europe. It is scheduled to open to traffic by April 2020.
The bridge collapse killed 43 people and injured dozens more. Italy's transport minister Danilo Toninelli described the incident as an "immense tragedy." International leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the victims.
The morning after the collapse, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that three children – aged 8, 12 and 13 — were among those killed.
The bridge over the northwestern port city was one of Italy's main viaducts, connecting the A10 motorway towards France and the A7 up to Milan. The incident also took place on the eve of Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday, meaning there was likely more traffic than usual.
Italy's Giuseppe Conte interrupted his holiday to visit the scene of the collapse. While Conte reserved his words to praise the rescue workers, his ministers started pointing fingers. Transport Minister Toninelli said the company managing Italy's highways would have its contract revoked. However, his 5Star Movement party has been criticized for downplaying the need for infrastructure investments.
While the precise reason behind the disaster is still unknown, investigators believe it could have been caused by lightning, an engineering failure or corrosion. Prosecutors have place 20 people under investigation, as well as the privately-owned highway operator Autostrade per l'Italia. The bridge had been in use for around 50 years, close to the recommended limit.