Heinrich Heine compared Genoa to the skeleton of an animal stranded on the shores of the Mediterranean. Since Tuesday 14 August, the spine of the Ligurian colossus is nothing but a pile of ashes. At 11.40 am, in a rumble at the end of the world, the Morandi bridge collapsed over 200 metres. 45 metres high, this ultra-frequented motorway viaduct connected the Cornigliano and Sampierdarena districts to the west of the city.
Under downpours of water, about thirty cars and several heavy goods vehicles fell into the void, crashing on the dry bed of the Polcevera River, on the railway tracks along it, and on a few surrounding buildings – mainly sheds.
On 15 August at midday, civil protection reported that the provisional toll had risen overnight to 39 dead and 15 injured.
As soon as the disaster was announced, the entire Italian political class came to the bedside of the wounded city. “It was a disaster that struck Genoa and all of Italy. A frightening and absurd drama has struck individuals and families,” commented President Sergio Mattarella, who visited the scene in the late afternoon.
“We thought it was an earthquake.”
The city of Christopher Columbus and Beppe Grillo, the founder of the 5 Star Movement (M5S), stands out from the other metropolises of the North of the peninsula less ordered, less clean on it. It is a port city, popular and musical, all tangled streets, pierced by long concrete snakes – highways, bridges, viaducts.
“I was at work, I heard a huge explosion, we all thought it was an earthquake,” says Antonio, a local resident who offered his help to help by keeping onlookers and curious people away from the affected area.
A thousand rescue workers – firemen, police, carabinieri, civil protection, Red Cross – and a crowd of sniffer dogs are busy around the rubble. Teams from across the country are working together. “We use special tools that allow us to search under the debris by cutting the cement and iron. We’ll be working all night again, with the Piedmontese dog unit: dogs let us know where to search,” explained a Lombard fireman in the early evening.
Local rescuers find it difficult to hide their emotions. “I was sent to Abruzzo during the earthquake of 2016, I worked on several alluvium. But this is something else. Genoa is on his knees. This viaduct was renamed the “Brooklyn Bridge” because it looked like it. We borrowed it every day to get around the city, loved it and hated it. That was our horizon,” Michele says. A psychologist for civil protection, the young man listens to the victims’ relatives. He is also responsible for taking the remains to San Martino Hospital.
A bridge built in the late 1960s
On the eve of Ferragosto – the holiday of 15 August, a ritual that Italians love to spend with family and friends – the staff of Liguria’s largest hospital is mobilised by tragedy. In the waiting room of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, faces are tense, riveted to the ground. The silence is heavy.
Pina mourns her brother Bruno, who worked as a garbage collector, like every summer, for three months. He was 57 years old, two daughters, and was delighted by his employer’s promise to hire him on permanent contracts. A rain of cement fell on his truck, and “the doctors want to assemble the parts of his body before showing us the body. Devastated by grief, Pina has just met a friend who has lost her daughter; she barely manages to finish her sentences. “We’re all dead here, it’s unspeakable. »
S’étirant sur 1,18 kilomètre, le pont Morandi a été édifié à la fin des années 1960. A l’époque, on parlait de chef-d’œuvre d’ingénierie. Mais très vite, des problèmes structurels apparaissent. Dès les années 1980, une alternative au viaduc, la Bretella, est envisagée.
« Cette route n’a jamais été réalisée pour des raisons politiques : elle aurait dû passer par des territoires qui votaient communiste, or à l’époque le PC tenait la ville », rappelle Franco Manzitti. Ce journaliste génois a écrit plusieurs dizaines d’articles sur le pont Morandi. « A la fin des années 1990, on planche sur un autre projet d’autoroute, la Gronda, rappelle-t-il. Il a fallu des années de débats pour finalement trouver un accord. Le chantier de la Gronda devait commencer à la rentrée. Trop tard. »
« Une erreur d’ingénierie »
En 2016, Antonio Brencich, professeur agrégé en structures de béton à la faculté d’ingénierie de Gênes, s’inquiétait déjà des défaillances du viaduc. Dans un article publié par Ingegneri. info, il évoquait une « erreur d’ingénierie ». La même année, le quotidien génois Il Secolo XIX s’alarmait de l’état des 5 000 ponts et viaducs de Ligurie, réalisés pour la plupart dans les années 1950 et 1960, et laissés à l’abandon : « Il s’agit de structures qui ont vieilli avec la décadence physiologique du béton. Et qui commencent – littéralement – à partir
The sun returned to Genoa in the middle of the afternoon. But the asphalt had not finished drying that politicians were already stirring controversy. Those responsible will “pay, pay everything and pay dearly”, promised the interior minister Matteo Salvini (League, extreme right). “Those who have failed must pay,” added his sworn enemy, former Council President Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party, centre left).
While the latter invited “to discuss infrastructure, without ideologies”, Mr Salvini attacked European budgetary rules, which would prevent Italy from spending enough to modernise its roads. “We should ask ourselves if respecting these[budgetary] limits is more important than the safety of Italians. Obviously this is not the case,” he said during a trip to Sicily.
Read also: Italy: failures on the structure of the Morandi bridge in Genoa had been reported
The 5-star movement on the defensive
The same Eurosceptic accents at Danilo Toninelli. Invited to the Rai, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure pointed out the responsibility for heavy goods vehicle traffic, especially “Polish lorries”, in the tragedy. Traditionally resistant to major works, his party, the M5S, is on the defensive. By 2013, the Genoese section had opposed the construction of the Gronda, at a cost considered exorbitant, and compared the hypothesis of a collapse of the Morandi viaduct to a “fable”. On 2 August, during a hearing in the Chamber of Deputies, Mr Toninelli himself classified the new motorway among the projects “to be reviewed”.
The Genoese Annamaria Furlan fulminates against “bureaucratic heaviness” and “mafia infiltrations”. “I hope that this immense tragedy, which could and should have been avoided, can take the issue of infrastructure out of electoral speculation,” says the General Secretary of the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU).
All day long, the main Italian radio stations disrupted their programmes, interspersing their special broadcasts with old Genoese rengains. Among them, Fabrizio De André’s January Prayer. It is about a “last old bridge”, where suicidal people hear themselves say: “Come to heaven where I too am going, because there is no hell in God’s world. »